[4th Allocated Day]
[Relevant document: The Fifteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, The EU Bill: Restrictions on Treaties and Decisions relating to the EU, HC 682.]
Further considered in Committee
[Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]
Decisions requiring approval by Act
I beg to move amendment 24, page 6, line 7, at end insert—
‘(e) a decision under Article 218(8) of TFEU for the accession of the European Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in accordance with Article 6(2) of TEU.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 45, page 6, line 25, at end insert—
‘(da) a decision implemented through the solidarity clause under Article 222 that obliges the United Kingdom to provide assistance to another Member State which is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster.’.
Amendment 25, in clause 10, page 8, line 34, leave out subsection (2).
It is a pleasure to come back for a third day of excitement this week, talking about Europe. I thought that when I left the European Parliament, I might be able to ditch that part of my life and move on to something interesting. It seems to wear one down, like a terrible weight around one’s neck.
I want to see whether I can tidy up a few parts of the Bill which, I believe, could be helped. Currently the European Union is not party to the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the ECHR. The Lisbon treaty, however, introduced what is now article 6(2) of the treaty on the European Union, which provides that the EU will accede to the ECHR. This accession agreement—in effect a treaty between the EU and the states party to the ECHR—is being negotiated.
Article 218(8) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union provides that once negotiated, the accession agreement must be concluded, for the EU’s part, by unanimity in the Council. The same article states that after adoption by the Council, the EU decision concluding the agreement must also be
“approved by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements”
before it can come into force.
Under current UK law, this approval may require an Act of Parliament. Clause 10, however, where this matter currently resides, requires only a resolution of approval in each House. Indeed, the definition of parliamentary approval in clause 10(3) does not seem well suited to the approval of a decision adopted by the Council under article 218(8), because the resolution of approval specified concerns approval of a draft decision.
Until the article 218(8) TFEU conclusion has come into force, the EU cannot accede to the ECHR. This is a complicated treaty between the EU and the ECHR and warrants a great deal of scrutiny. It will have a number of indirect effects on the United Kingdom.
I, too, wish we could be free of the European Union, but that is a debate for another day. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given where we are on prisoners’ voting rights, as well as the growth of rights under the ECHR and the controversy surrounding that, we need to ensure maximum parliamentary scrutiny of decisions such as the one that he is describing?
Indeed. I know that there is to be a Backbench Business Committee debate on the matter in the not-too-distant future, in which I hope that Members across the House can voice their concerns about that ruling.
I return to the proposal to move one part of the Bill from clause 10 to clause 7. I was speaking about the indirect effects on the United Kingdom that the accession of the EU to the EHCR might have. When the accession takes place, the EU will be able to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more cost and impact and, most importantly, more jurisprudence on EU law.
I am seeking not to upgrade the requirement for scrutiny, but to maintain the present level. Furthermore, I am concerned that in clauses 6 and 7, a few article 48(7) ratchet decisions are not caught by the Bill. Such decisions would be those applying to the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure where the EU treaties currently require a special legislative procedure, and the existing special legislative procedure does not require unanimity in the Council. In other words, while a switch in EU legislative procedure would be taking place, it would not involve abolition of a veto because a veto did not exist in the first place. However, the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure entails the European Parliament having co-decision rights with the Council. It can table amendments to a proposed law and veto the Council’s desired law. In general, a switch to the ordinary legislative procedure would take EU decision making further out of the hands of national Governments and give greater power to a supranational institution.
The article 48(7) ratchet clauses not covered by the Bill would confer new co-decision rights on the European Parliament in a few areas of EU law that I shall list now, and many more. Article 23 provides that every EU citizen has the right to diplomatic protection. We had a debate on what that might mean to the individual. I am speaking now about our power to scrutinise such decisions. Article 182(4) allows the Council to adopt, through qualified majority voting, but only after consultation of the European Parliament, specific EU research and development programmes. These must accord with the multi-year EU framework programme for research and development that is decided through the ordinary legislative procedure, but the decision on specific programmes sets their duration, the precise financial contribution by the EU—essentially by us—and the detailed rules for implementation. Furthermore, article 349 provides that the Council can adopt legislative measures on how EU treaties apply to areas known in wonderful EU parlance as the outermost regions. The way in which such specific decisions are dealt with in the Bill would be a retrograde step for democratic control, hence my amendment.
I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) in the arguments that he has adduced. Since the Maastricht treaty, I have been gravely concerned about the operation of co-decision, and that is the best part of 20 years ago. The bottom line is that the situation has become increasingly difficult and unacceptable. The European Parliament, which is not a real Parliament at all—I see the Minister sighing. He cannot understand that the difference in the manner in which the European Parliament is elected, the difference in its procedures, the extent to which it holds Ministers to account, the intrusion of the process of proportional representation and the manner in which that operates, and many other aspects of the institutional difficulties and the democratic deficit that exists in the EU, are all part and parcel of the necessity to retain control in the hands of the national Parliaments. Unfortunately, for all the reasons given by my hon. Friend, for these specific matters there is an extension of this strange creature which used to be called co-decision, but which now, in typical Eurospeak, has become the ordinary legislative procedure. It is not ordinary at all, it is quite extraordinary, and it is not a legislative procedure in the sense in which we are legislating in this House.
I am dealing specifically with amendment 24, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, and supporting his arguments. My amendments are, in general terms, supportable in accordance with the arguments I have set out, and I have no further comments to make on them at the moment.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) about needing an Act of Parliament as opposed to a resolution of both Houses, is not one of the advantages of such a course that it gives more time for scrutiny, and that an Act is amendable in a much greater way than a mere resolution? Given the importance of the issues that the hon. Gentleman outlined, it is vital that measures to do not get passed into law here in the UK indirectly or by accident, or by unintended consequences, as so often happens.
That is exactly the point. The combined effect of the amendments that we are discussing is directly related to what the hon. Gentleman says and to what my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said. It is about time that the Committee understood that the importance of these debates is not being reflected by the votes or by the Government’s attitude. So far, they are not accepting any of the amendments. The European Scrutiny Committee has produced a report, and most of the amendments arise from it, including the ones we are discussing. My hon. Friend is a member of that Committee, and other members of the Committee are here as well. The net result is that we are not discussing the amendments properly.
Amendments 24 and 25 would require that before the EU can accede to the European convention on human rights, Parliament would need to approve the EU’s accession by Act of Parliament. At present, the EU and its institutions cannot be held to account for the fulfilment of its existing international legal obligations by the ECHR in the same way as the EU member states all can. Accession by the EU to the convention would close this gap.
EU accession to the ECHR is, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) acknowledged, already expressly provided for in the EU treaties, as amended by the treaty of Lisbon. Article 6(2) of the treaty on the EU provides that
“the Union shall accede to the ECHR”.
I am sure that in his usual persuasive way my right hon. Friend will give us a very good account of the legal case for the EU acceding to the ECHR. I hope that as he does so he will dispel the suspicion that is forming in many people’s minds that the real reason, never mind the complicated legal rationale that he has given, is to put the EU on the same footing as the other signatories to the convention, which are all member states, and to give the EU the character of a member state. It is only member states that have acceded to the ECHR, and all the members of the EU have done so. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will give us a very thorough explanation, which will also serve to dispel that suspicion that is forming in many people’s minds.
Certainly I agree that it is important to keep in our minds the distinction between the member states and the EU as an entity. It is therefore important that the treaties set out plainly that accession to the convention would not affect the EU’s competences in any way, and that any extension or enlargement of EU competence would therefore have to be obtained by the normal process of treaty amendment, which is subject to the various checks that we are laying out in this legislation. Under protocol 8 to the treaties, it is also made clear that the Union’s accession to the ECHR will in no way affect the situation of the individual member states as parties to that convention. So the accession by the EU to the convention cannot give further powers or competences to the EU; nor will it affect member states’ own standing with respect to the ECHR.
In dealing with Council of Europe matters, the Government are always on the alert to avoid creating either the impression or the reality that EU member states, which are all individually parties to the ECHR, are acting as a bloc. The situation is unusual, because the Council of Europe is an institution in which EU member states have a majority over other state parties. Therefore, it is important that that distinction of principle to which my hon. Friend alluded is maintained.
May I say—I hope the Minister will appreciate this—that he has been extremely assiduous in attending to Council of Europe matters and exemplary in discharging his ministerial responsibility in respect of them? He made an extremely important point about the Council of Europe, which is that it includes many other nations that are not EU member states. It is a good thing for countries that are members of the Council of Europe to be dealt with individually, including those that also happen to be EU member states, so as not to create in any sense the impression that there is an EU bloc, because that has a bad impact on human rights in Europe, extending more widely than just the EU.
I agree. Quite apart from any constitutional or legal significance, it would be politically and diplomatically counter-productive to go down the route that my hon. Friend has rightly warned against. Whether the UK as state party should continue to have the relationship with the European convention on human rights that we currently have is a matter of intense in the debate in the House, and Members on both sides of the Committee have their views on that.
The point for the purposes of this afternoon’s considerations is that the accession of the EU to the ECHR would make no practical difference to the UK’s position. The Government see some advantages in EU accession, because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg could act as a direct check on how EU institutions exercise their powers, in exactly the same way it acts as a check on the actions of all other signatories to the convention. I know that some of my hon. Friends will say that they believe that the European Court of Human Rights should not have that type of authority over this country, but I say to them that it is my belief that the EU and its institutions should be held to the same standards on human rights as we expect of member states.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for his patient responses to so many questions. I wonder whether it is necessary for the EU to sign up to the ECHR, because we have already debated the question of how EU law comes into effect in this country, which is by Act of Parliament. Therefore, any decision made by the EU can come into effect here only under our own laws, which are of course already justiciable under the European Court of Human Rights. This is not so much an added safeguard as a symbolic step towards creating the European Union as a state.
We certainly need to guard against that. The Government have accepted, as did the Conservative party before the general election, that the ratification of the Lisbon treaty is a political and legal reality and that we will work within that context. The treaty states that the EU shall accede to the ECHR, and it also provides that the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights should be considered, once accession has taken place, as general principles of EU law. In those circumstances, one would expect that those in the Commission who are responsible for drafting European directives and other legislative initiatives would have regard to the judgments of the Court and would frame draft European legislation in order to meet the standards of that jurisprudence.
Will the Minister clarify Her Majesty’s Government’s view of the Lisbon treaty, because it seems to me that they are in quite a strong position to say that things that have not already been done, which are subject to unanimity before they can be implemented, need not be implemented by the Government?
There is a clear statement on the face of the treaty that the EU shall accede to the European convention on human rights, and the Government’s position is that we accepted that statement and that commitment as part of the Lisbon treaty. As I hope to explain shortly, the law and our procedures in this House provide a number of safeguards that, I believe, will enable the House of Commons and the other place to scrutinise in detail any proposal for accession when it comes forward.
I will give way, but a large group of amendments is listed on the Order Paper for consideration later today, and those amendments stand in the names of many hon. and right hon. Members. I want to try to limit my comments on the early group so that we have time for a thorough debate on those amendments on justice and home affairs, which I think the Committee would expect.
I have already been helpful to the Minister in limiting my earlier remarks. Having said that, I would point out to him that this afternoon the European Scrutiny Committee has considered the document, “EU Accession to the European Convention on Human Rights”, and set out in full, for the purposes of ensuring that the House is properly informed about what all the arguments amount to, both the questions and answers that he has given to that Committee. In particular, we include his letter of 30 June, our letter of 8 September and his letter of 21 September, and the detailed matters that arose on that, which take up two pages. We include our letter of 27 October and the explanatory memorandum of 15 November. The idea that the Minister can slide past this—
I look forward with relish to studying the European Scrutiny Committee’s conclusions.
There are already a number of ways for the Government and Parliament to exercise control over the precise terms of the EU’s accession agreement. Article 218(8) of the TFEU makes it clear that accession would be subject to unanimous agreement by the Council and that the Council’s decisions to conclude the agreement cannot enter into force until it has been approved by all member states individually and in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, which are entirely a matter for each member state.
In addition, all EU member states are also parties to the European convention on human rights in their own right and will also be parties to the accession instrument. As with any other treaty to which the UK is party, the final accession agreement will be subject to the procedures under part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—the codification of the Ponsonby procedures. That requires the agreement to be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days, during which time either House may resolve that it should not be ratified. On top of those two levels of control, clause 10 of the Bill will add an additional layer of accountability by requiring a positive vote in favour of the agreement in each House before the UK could approve the EU’s decision to conclude such an agreement.
I do not want at all to talk about the detail of the European convention on human rights, but I make the point that we will probably need an Act of Parliament, or a resolution as it stands. I do not intend to press the amendment, but I wanted to ensure that the Minister completely understood my reasons for tabling and for wanting appropriate scrutiny of the points that it raises.
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s motives, and if I may say so without bringing him into complete disrepute with a number of other hon. Members on the Back Benches, he has played an extremely active and constructive part in our debates in Committee and has adeptly and correctly spotted some loopholes in the Bill that have led the Government to bring forward amendments to respond to the them.
Given that a number of control mechanisms already exist, that the accession agreement does no more than spell out the detail of something already provided for in the treaties and, most importantly, that there is no practical effect of EU accession to the ECHR on the position of member states, there is no necessity for the additional requirement of an Act of Parliament. I therefore welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention and hope that he will not press the amendment to a vote.
That brings us to the debate on clause 7 stand part. If I am reading the feeling of the Committee correctly, I shall allow this to be a fairly wide debate, obviating the need for further stand part debates on the later clauses. If we all understand that, I shall show considerable laxity.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
I shall discuss my earlier point about EU accession to the ECHR in the context of the broad view that you, Mr Caton, have taken about the necessity to get some of these issues out in the open. I shall also refer to the document that I cited in my intervention on the Minister, because we discussed it in the European Scrutiny Committee today. The document is a Council decision, the object of which is to authorise the European Commission to start negotiations with the Council of Europe on the EU’s accession to the European convention on human rights. Our Committee reached the stage of a first report.
I very much apologise for not being at the European Scrutiny Committee meeting, but I was getting ready for this session. Government Members are giving the Bill the appropriate amount of scrutiny, but, looking at the Opposition Benches, I wonder whether anybody on that side cares.
I could not agree more. My hon. Friend is right, and I am glad that the Minister also nods in agreement, because the accession is hugely important. I understand entirely that the Minister has a view about it. He has also heard the very good arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has made on the specific questions that arise. The Minister knows that it is a contentious issue, not least because we are also dealing with the interaction of the European convention on human rights, which came up in the statement on terrorism only an hour or so ago in this very House, and the crucial balance between security and freedom. We do not need to discuss control orders and counter-terrorism now, but I simply make the point that an enormous body of law could be affected by this.
The shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David), is attentive, was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and is taking an interest in the debate. Of course, he has to be here, but I think that he would be here anyway. I find it strange that the Chamber is almost completely empty when we are considering these incredibly important issues, and it would be interesting to know whether there is any reason why. I am glad to welcome my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), who also has great knowledge of these matters. I hope that he will contribute to the debate, because we have just discussed this point in the European Scrutiny Committee, so it is an opportune moment for us to look at the principles involved.
The Government support accession by the EU to the ECHR, as the Minister indicates. I am sorry that we got a little tetchy, but he gave me the impression that he wanted to move on from the subject fairly quickly, and I understand the necessity to move on to later amendments. Our entire proceedings, despite some considerable reservations on the one hand and downright hostility on the other, have been conducted in a civilised manner and in accordance with what I hope debates in this House should consist of, but we need to take a good look at what the provision implies, and this clause stand part debate gives us the opportunity to do so.
According to the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, accession will close the gap in human rights protection as applicants will for the first time be able to bring a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights directly against the European Union and its institutions for alleged violations of ECHR rights. It will enable the European Union to defend itself directly before the European Court of Human Rights in matters where EU law or actions of the EU have been impugned.
The Secretary of State also says that accession will reduce the risk of divergence and ensure consistency between human rights case law between the European Court of Human Rights and the EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg. That is very important. Furthermore, he says that the EU will be bound by European Court of Human Rights judgments in cases in which it is a respondent, and like other contracting parties to the ECHR the EU will need to have regard to the Strasbourg jurisprudence.
I have heard the Secretary of State for Justice express views, albeit in other circumstances, in which he has raised concerns about the extent to which the judiciary is impinging on the sovereignty of this House, and I take him at his word. If he believes that, he might also consider that the EU will have to have regard to Strasbourg jurisdiction. Sovereignty, which we have debated at some length in relation to clause 18, is directly involved in that issue.
I do not need to repeat any arguments that I set out in relation to clause 18, and I have no intention of doing so, but the principle is about the use of jurisprudence from Strasbourg or the European Union Court, the European Court of Justice, and its effect on the legislative process in this House. There is also a constitutional question for the United Kingdom about the manner in which our judiciary is using Strasbourg precedents and importing them to their judgments in our courts. The Lord Chief Justice recently criticised that, because he is worried about the impact of accession on the manner in which we make our decisions and the invasion of common law precedent.
I hesitate to intervene on such an erudite speech by my hon. Friend, but one problem that the Minister might want to consider in the context of the clause is that accession by the EU to the convention will create essentially co-ordinated jurisdiction over some areas between the European Court of Justice on the one hand and the Strasbourg Court on the other. Indirectly, therefore, it might affect the rights of this place, because more law and jurisprudence will come from both Courts, and that might interfere with the way in which we conduct business and are expected both to represent our constituents and to make our own laws consistent with accepted doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. I have intervened now because I think my hon. Friend will agree with that point.
Absolutely, and it could not have been better put. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who is Queen’s Counsel after all, as well as a distinguished member of the European Scrutiny Committee. He has been following the matter with great interest and makes the point very well.
There is a further point to make about the statement by the Secretary of State for Justice. He says that, additionally, European accession will mean that individuals who argue unsuccessfully in the European Court of Justice that the European Union has breached their fundamental rights—I stress “fundamental”—can, subject to the usual admissibility requirements, complain to the European Court of Human Rights that the EU has violated one or more of convention rights. The risk of confusion in that melee—that dual jurisdiction—is a serious potential problem. The Secretary of State for Justice went on to say that European Court of Human Rights judgments will be binding on the European Union as a respondent to the proceedings.
The Government, apparently, do not expect the European Union’s accession to the ECHR to have any direct impact on UK law. As article 6(3) of the treaty on European Union confirms, the fundamental rights guaranteed by the ECHR already
“constitute general principles of the Union’s law.”
However, importantly, the Secretary of State for Justice concedes that an adverse judgment against the EU by the European Court of Human Rights may require the EU to amend its legislation to protect individuals’ fundamental rights in a way that will have consequential implications for UK law. That is why I not only have sympathy for what my hon. and learned Friend said, but refer back to the Minister’s assertion that it will not have implications for EU law.
As I said, we have had a number of exchanges with the Secretary of State for Justice. It is best if I pick out one or two of his points from the correspondence, all of which will be set out for the benefit of Members. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) has come to swell the ranks of Labour Back Benchers, whose presence would otherwise be non-existent. Unfortunately for the Minister, it is just possible that she will agree with what we are saying, but we will wait and see.
In the letter of 30 June, of which I am sure the Minister is aware, the Secretary of State for Justice wrote to the European Scrutiny Committee, advising that the EU had adopted this mandate. He went on to explain that the Government support EU accession and made the remarks that I summarised earlier. We replied to him on 8 September stating that the EU’s accession struck the Committee as potentially a significant development in its internal legal order—despite treaty provisions to the contrary—and that it would amount to submitting the acts of EU institutions to independent external control by the ECHR. We also said it was a potentially significant development in the way in which EU citizens’ human rights are protected. We used the word “potentially” deliberately because it was difficult on the information before us to know how much the EU’s accession to the ECHR would be a symbolic gesture and how much it would lead to practical changes for United Kingdom citizens.
At this point, it is worth saying that these changes are not just generalisations, but that serious fundamental changes are being brought about by the manner in which the accession proposal is being put through. It is Government policy and it has significant implications for the daily lives of people. It is difficult in a debate such as this to give specific illustrations because the nature of the debate more or less precludes one from doing so. We are supposed to be talking about the generality of the constitutional change. However, I simply want to put on record that it will have a significant impact on the practical lives of the people whom we represent. That is the key reason for raising these issues.
We went on to note that the Cabinet Office guidance recommended that Departments should provide the scrutiny Committees with
“details of negotiating mandates as soon as they have been approved”.
We were grateful for the explanation of the Secretary of State for Justice on how the Government view these matters. We asked him to explain further how the current gap in human rights protection will be closed by accession, and what he meant by the word “directly” when he said:
“applicants will, for the first time, be able to bring a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights”—
that is the Strasbourg Court—
“directly against the EU and its institutions for alleged violations of Convention rights”.
After an exchange, what it boiled down to was that there is concern in academic circles that the charter of fundamental rights, which was brought in through a protocol in the Lisbon treaty, specifically allows for EU human rights law to provide “more extensive protection” than the ECHR, and that raises a problem. In light of that, it is difficult to see why the Secretary of State for Justice concluded that a key benefit of accession to the ECHR will be consistency between the two legal domains. On the contrary, there is concern in academic circles that the charter will lead to legal uncertainty on how human rights are applied in Europe by introducing the additional standard of “fundamental” right. Although in appearance that is an esoteric legal argument, it will have an impact on people’s rights. That is the problem.
This may be one of the rare occasions when those on my Front Bench do not object to my intervention. I really do not know what the hon. Gentleman is going on about. I have tried to read clause 7 again. Let us go back. The fundamental charter of rights was introduced because of the judgment against the European Union as an institution over Gibraltar. Rather than signing up to the ECHR, which would have been the logical and consistent thing to do once we had given it legal personality, we now have two systems. In the UK, we are signed up to the ECHR. I would have preferred it if the EU had signed up to the ECHR. The charter of fundamental rights gives additional rights. I singularly fail to understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making because the situation is no different.
I am expressing the view of academics who have studied this matter, perhaps more than the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] I am not making any personal assertions. I am just saying that the evidence that we have is that the charter will lead to legal uncertainty over how human rights are applied in Europe by introducing the additional standard of fundamental rights. I am not criticising the hon. Lady, but simply replying to her question by expressing the view that is taken in academic circles.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem that is being expressed is that there will be two competing and overlapping systems, adjudicated upon by two different Courts, which is potentially a recipe for disaster? I think that is the point that he is seeking to make.
I accept that. That complexity does exist, and part of the difficulty with the whole issue of human rights, whether in relation to accession, the charter or the jurisdiction of the Courts, is shown in the comments of the Lord Chief Justice in his Judicial Studies Board lecture. He said to the entire judiciary, “Brothers and sisters”, referring to the other judges—[Interruption.] Well, that is their language. He said, “Brother and sister judges, will you please take note that our first obligation is to have regard to the manner in which we come to our decisions in the light of common law precedent?” He warned them against adopting Strasbourg’s precedents as a means of arriving at decisions in our own courts. He actually used the words, “We must beware”. I therefore entirely agree with the hon. Lady and with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, and with the views expressed in the European Scrutiny Committee’s report that has come out only this afternoon.
There is indeed a conflict of courts, which has been a matter of considerable concern for a number of years. It is the oldest question of all—who is the master? Where there is a conflict between a constitutional court—the European Court—and a human rights court, who prevails? That is the lack of clarity that exists and the worrying aspect for many people. It has been much talked about in the European Parliament in recent years.
Indeed, and I add that my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has been manfully seeking to contain the tsunami of opinions expressed in that Committee about the continuing onward movement towards accession of the type that we are discussing here and about the human rights culture and all that goes with it.
Indeed, and that is because the abstract principles contained in the charter, the ECHR convention and so on have developed a completely different type of law from ours. In a way, this debate illustrates the difficulty that exists. I say to the Minister that as ever, the Government are acquiescing in greater movement towards the human rights culture.
I may say that if anyone knows of my record in relation to matters such as this, they will know that nobody is more likely to want to defend the rights of individuals. All Members are devoted to trying to ensure that there is proper protection. The trouble is how to get to that point. I believe, for example in relation to terrorism, that if we legislate in Westminster according to the principles of habeas corpus, due process and fair trial, and according to our established procedures, we can be sure that no suspect will be ill-treated in our prison cells, however much potential circumstantial evidence there is against them.
Habeas corpus is the first duty of the judge. Ask any senior judge and he will say, “My first obligation is to apply habeas corpus.” He would go straight down from his chambers to the prison to make absolutely certain that a person was not being ill-treated. If a writ of habeas corpus is issued, that is that. It is one of our most fundamental protections of liberty for the citizen. A great deal of human rights legislation, and all that goes with it, is moving us away from that. There are also political judges in other countries. There are different systems of law, yet we are acquiescing in a process of change away from our established system.
It is difficult to grasp the broad sense of what is happening, but it has a direct impact. However, the Government are acquiescing in it on a significant scale. That was why, when I was shadow Attorney-General, I proposed the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. That was our policy up to the time of the coalition agreement, and the Prime Minister himself repeatedly said that he thoroughly endorsed it. It was Conservative party policy, but under the coalition it has been abandoned, which seems a big jump. In addition, during the debates on the Bill we have seen further acquiescence in the process of moving towards the abstract principle, instead of the concept of the common-law precedent, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) mentioned.
My issue with my hon. Friend’s eloquent speech is that I do not understand the word “process” that he has been using. We are already under the convention regime. Whether we are in or out of that is a boundary question. He might want to get out, but that is a different debate. Nothing he can do to amend the Bill will fundamentally alter the fact that we are already signed up to the “process”.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, he came into the Chamber somewhat after my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) explained why he wanted to amend the Bill to ensure that we retain greater sovereignty in relation to certain matters arising under the European convention. I do not criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) for coming in a bit late, but we have already discussed that matter—we are now on clause stand part and the general question of the principles on which the convention operates. Does my hon. Friend want to intervene again?
Certainly. My hon. Friend says, “We are where we are.” In this debate and in the debate on the individual amendments, the Committee is dealing with some very important principles, including the principal question of the shift of accession. Therefore, it is important for us to explain and illustrate, by reference to documents, which I am not going through in detail, and by general principles, that with regard to the charter, the European Court of Justice, the European convention on human rights and the Strasbourg Court, there are important questions that will affect the constituents whom we serve.
For example, the Minister has told us that the only way that individuals can argue in the Strasbourg Court that the EU has breached their human rights is to bring proceedings against one or more member states. His answer to the question, “What do you mean by ‘directly’?” was that once the EU has acceded to the convention, it will be possible for the EU itself to be the respondent and to defend claims in its own name. When we asked how accession will reduce the risk of divergence and ensure consistency between human rights case law, Strasbourg and Luxembourg when article 52(3) of the charter specifically allows human rights law to provide “more extensive protection” than the ECHR—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham referred to that—we were told that the EU must have regard to Strasbourg jurisprudence.
Our problem over and over again is that the answers that we get are a further extension of the principles that move us away from common law and precedent, and that instead absorb us into a system of law, judgments and courts that operate on abstract principles. It is as simple as that. That is the key question. When there is a divergence between the two Courts, those problems will become more conflated and confused.
Another question was how the EU autonomous legal order will be preserved in light of European Court of Justice opinions in certain cases, which I will not go into in detail. In a nutshell, we are grateful for the Minister’s replies, which are included in the European Scrutiny Committee’s report so that anybody who wants to read them can do so. I quite understand that those who have come into the Chamber very recently did not hear the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry and the specific issues that he raised.
The short answer is that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry did not do so because he had dealt with the questions that needed to be dealt with in relation to those amendments. I am concerned with the broader issue of the relationship between the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That is the principal question in a clause stand part debate, which is why I am dealing with it now. That ought to be of great concern to the House, which is why the ESC has produced a special report and why I have gone into the detail in this debate rather than in a debate on specific amendments.
The draft report notes that—and I refer this section particularly to the Minister, because he may not have seen it yet—
“the guidance for Parliamentary scrutiny of EU documents states that ‘Departments should ensure that the Committees are kept informed as much as possible about the scope and development of negotiations prior to conclusion of an agreement.’ We look forward to being kept so informed. Meanwhile, the document remains under scrutiny.”
This is a very important matter. It is complex and requires some appreciation of the direction of navigation, which is towards an abstract system of law based on abstract principles rather than common law and precedent. It involves an interaction of the ECJ and the ECHR. We fear the possibility of inconsistency and uncertainty as a result, and this is the opportunity to explain those fears.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry for raising the question specifically and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) for his amendments. I thought it would be sensible if I took the opportunity to set out the position of the Committee in relation to the exchange of correspondence with the Minister. As a rider, I would just add that we appear to be acquiescing in the move to a system of abstract law, which is not in the interests of the people of this country. The issue is not that we are where we are: it is the impact that where we are is having on our constituents. That move towards acquiescence is causing me ever more concern, because we are being absorbed into a system that is changing the face of our politics, our judiciary and even our parliamentary sovereignty. For all those reasons, it should be taken very seriously. However, judging from the fact that yet again no Labour Back Benchers are in their places, we can form some judgment about the extent to which they care about their constituents in relation to matters that will have an enormous impact on their daily lives.
I thank the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) for providing an indication of what his Committee’s recent report says. We have heard over the last few days how important his reports have been in the consideration of this Bill. I also thank him for providing a useful context to the developing relationship between British law and European law.
During the last couple of days, we have heard a great deal from the Government about so-called direct democracy—enabling the people to make decisions themselves. However, it is worth remembering that the Conservative party has never been the party of devolution in Britain and it has always had a very limited definition of the European concept of subsidiarity. During the last few days, we have also discussed the exemption clause and the significance test—ways in which the Govt are substantially qualifying their apparent commitment to referendums. This afternoon, we go on to discuss the Government’s proposals for those issues that they deem, to quote the Minister for Europe, are “not of sufficient significance” to require a referendum.
Clause 7 sets out where primary legislation is required in such areas. It is interesting that the Government see Parliament playing a key role, but only on what it considers to be second tier issues—issues that do not require, to quote the Minister again, a “full-blown referendum”. Leaving aside the difference between a full-blown and a half-blown referendum, this differentiation between what is deemed appropriate for direct democratic decision making and for parliamentary decision-making well illustrates the incoherence and contradictions at the heart of this Bill.
For example, yesterday we heard from the Minister how under schedule 1 to the Bill any change to the appointment procedure of the advocates-general of the ECJ would attract a referendum. However, according to the letter that the Minister sent to his Back Benchers in November, a move from unanimity to qualified majority voting for decisions concerning the number of advocates-general would not attract a referendum, but would be covered by clause 7. Perhaps he will be kind enough to explain to the Committee why there are to be different procedures on those two related issues. It would be difficult in the extreme for any Government to explain why a referendum would be held on the one issue, but not the other.
It should be stressed that clause 7 is not about stopping changes at either the Council of Ministers or the European Council, because any member state can block a change to an internal passerelle clause. Clause 7 is only about providing parliamentary approval if the Government have already agreed to use one of the decisions set out in the clause. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) pointed out yesterday, it would be extremely difficult for a Council decision to abolish unanimity in respect of the adoption of any future acts. Indeed, Sir John Grant, the former United Kingdom permanent representative to the European Union put the matter extremely well in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee when he said that
“everybody’s got to agree that some of them are going to be outvoted.”
It is extremely unlikely that such a scenario would arise, so in reality the impact of clause 7 will be very small indeed.
After clause 7 we have clause 8, which would give Parliament a greater role over the so-called flexibility clause in the Lisbon treaty, and after that there is clause 9, which deals with justice and home affairs issues. Yesterday we discussed how some justice and home affairs issues would be covered by a referendum; today we discuss some justice and home affairs issues that will not. In particular, I want to refer to opt-ins to measures
“under the area of freedom, security and justice”.
Interestingly, the Bill does not really deal with one extremely important area. Britain has a temporary opt-out in the Lisbon treaty with regard to certain justice and home affairs measures. Under that protocol there are transitional provisions that provide for the United Kingdom to participate—or not—in certain European Union justice and home affairs measures. For example, the Government decided not to opt in to the draft EU directive on human trafficking. They decided not to opt in to that directive at the start of the legislative process, making the same decision during that process and at its conclusion, although I understand that they are to review the position when it comes to the adoption of the directive.
We believe that this is an important issue—an issue that clearly has to be addressed on an international and a European basis. I understand that the Government have decided to opt in to the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography directive—and quite right too—but what about the issue of international human trafficking? Our view is clear: it is an important issue that Britain should be tackling in co-operation with our European partners. However, the issue before us today is whether it is sensible, according to the Government’s own logic, to agree to their proposal that such opt-in provisions should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, but not a referendum. We fully believe that there should be more parliamentary scrutiny. That is why we agreed to an enhanced role for national Parliaments in the Lisbon treaty. However, given that the Government have been arguing for referendums on important issues, why are they not proposing a referendum on such an important issue?
According to the protocol to the Lisbon treaty, the United Kingdom has an opt-in provision that will last for four and a half years. After that, Britain will be fully part of the justice and home affairs decision-making process. Last night we heard that the Government had absolutely no intention whatever of allowing referendums to take place before 2015 at the earliest. The question that I ask is: why? According to the Government’s own logic, if there are to be referendums on important changes that affect the United Kingdom, there should surely be a referendum on this justice and home affairs opt-in during the course of this Parliament. Nothing better shows the inconsistency and incoherence of the Bill than this. It is a muddled clause in a very muddled Bill.
So much for clause 9. Next is clause 10. If what we have been discussing does not make things complicated enough, clause 10 sets out a further six decisions that require parliamentary approval. It is as though the Government have gone out of their way to create a piece of legislation that is deliberately confusing, obsessively complex and designed to confound every constitutional expert in the land.
Let me be clear: we strongly support greater parliamentary involvement and greater parliamentary scrutiny. That is why Baroness Ashton, when she was Leader of the House of Lords under the previous Government, made a statement setting out commitments by the then Government for more parliamentary scrutiny on actions arising from the justice and home affairs protocols. Last week, this Government made a statement that reaffirmed those commitments, and I welcome that. However, we are genuinely concerned about the lack of clarity. This is an obtuse and even eccentric way of addressing serious constitutional issues. They are issues that affect the people of this country on a day-to-day basis, and the country and the House deserve better than the Bill before us today.
May I first respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash)? He spoke with his characteristic dignity, courtesy and thoroughness about the issue of EU accession. I am sure that he will understand that I want to look carefully at the report from his Committee, rather than responding on the hoof this afternoon. As he would expect, a subject of this significance needs to be discussed by Ministers collectively in order for the Government to come up with the thorough and considered response that every member of his Committee deserves.
Clause 7 fulfils the pledge made in the coalition programme for government that
“the use of any passerelle”—
or ratchet clause—
“would require primary legislation.”
It sets out that the Government may not agree to the use of a number of passerelles, or ratchet clauses, in the EU treaties unless the approval from this House is specified in an Act of Parliament.
As the Foreign Secretary and I have made clear in the past, there is no straightforward legal or treaty definition of a ratchet clause. The European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 listed 10 such clauses and limited the definition to use of the simplified revision procedure and to nine articles that allow for the giving up of the British veto in specific areas. When we considered that commitment in the coalition programme, we decided that that definition was insufficient. So for a start, we have put a referendum lock on many of the passerelles listed in the 2008 Act. We debated those matters earlier in our Committee proceedings. Others we have subjected to a primary legislation lock under clause 7. So the use of article 48(7) to give up the UK veto in an area that we did not include in schedule 1 to the Bill would, none the less, still require full parliamentary approval in an Act of Parliament. The same principle applies to any proposal to move to qualified majority voting in an area of enhanced co-operation in which the UK is a participant.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) referred to article 48(7), and asked me about those aspects of it that did not involve giving up the UK veto but that made possible a shift to the ordinary legislative procedure. It is true that there are eight largely technical cases where article 48(7) could be used to move from the special legislative procedure to the ordinary legislative procedure, but they do not involve a move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, as QMV already applies in each of those eight instances. We believe that all that such a decision would do would increase the role of the European Parliament from being consulted to being the joint decision-making authority with the Council. It would not change the UK’s position under QMV. In the light of my hon. Friend’s comments, I would be happy to take the issue away and reflect on it further. Perhaps I could write to him on that detailed point, ahead of Report, and see whether I can satisfy him on that account.
What is clear in the Bill is that anything under article 48(7) relating to the giving up of a UK veto or a move to qualified majority voting would require primary legislation here. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry questioned me on those areas of policy, defined in various parts of the treaty, where article 48(7) could be applied to move from the special to the ordinary legislative procedure, but where QMV still applies now and would apply in the new circumstances. If it would help the hon. Lady, I will happily copy the letter I write to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry to her as well.
We took the opportunity in working on this Bill to take a fresh look at this issue. We concluded that a general principle could be applied—that articles already in the treaties that provided a “one-way” option should also be considered to be passerelle clauses. These one-way options add to or reduce what could be done within existing areas of EU competence, but without changes to either voting rules or legislative procedures. We felt that they should be subject to primary legislation.
We also looked hard at articles that modify the composition or rules of procedure of existing EU institutions and bodies. We will come on to most of those when we debate clause 10. However, we felt that the article allowing for the amendment of the number of Commissioners was a highly significant article as it could be used to negotiate a reduction in the current requirement that every member state should nominate one Commissioner. We therefore proposed, because of the importance of that matter, that any such decision should require approval by primary legislation.
Is it not ludicrous that there are so many Commissioners? There are far too many of them to give them all proper jobs. Half of them do not have a proper job now. We have ended up with a system under which each country gets one Commissioner, but they are not meant to be there as “the British Commissioner”. They should work together as a commission. When it comes to state aid, it is particularly important that they act independently, not as a national representative.
The hon. Gentleman, my predecessor in office, puts a strongly held view with characteristic cogency. Whatever the merits of his argument, it seems to me that departing from the principle that each country should be entitled to nominate a Commissioner would be a change of major significance to the way in which the European Union is organised and run. As such, it would seem appropriate, whatever the merits or demerits of the proposal, that this should be subject to primary legislation rather than any less demanding form of parliamentary scrutiny.
I am conscious of the pressure on time and I am going to try to make some progress.
Let me respond to the challenge from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) about the numbers of advocates-general. There are not 27 advocates-general, so we are not in the position of having one for every member state, but it is important that we retain the veto on this, and we have no intention of giving it up.
It is important for the United Kingdom to be able to approve the appointments of judges and advocates-general, and we felt that it was sufficiently important to be included in schedule 1.
There will be other opportunities for us to debate the number of advocates-general, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is ingenious enough to identify them. He and his hon. Friends have managed to weave the issue into every speech they have made so far at every stage of the Bill’s progress.
I am afraid that I am going to deny myself the pleasure of hearing a further explanation from the hon. Gentleman.
The other articles listed in clause 7—covering decisions on provisions for elections to the European Parliament, on the system of own resources of the EU, and on the adoption of provisions to replace the excessive deficit procedure—already require primary legislation before this country can agree to them, and clause 7 replicates those earlier requirements. Decisions under the articles listed in clause 7(2) would require approval in accordance with the constitutional requirements of the member state before the member state confirmed its approval of a decision. The four articles that I mentioned are also subject to enhanced parliamentary control in Germany following the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court on the Lisbon treaty.
For the other decisions listed in subsection (4), primary legislation will be needed before this country votes in the Council of Ministers or the European Council. In other words, the Act will be needed before the United Kingdom can cast its vote. We intend that to happen before the final political decision to use the ratchet clause is made at European Union level but after official-level negotiations have been completed, so that it is clear to Parliament that that is the final text and it can make a decision on what is proposed without the risk of further changes.
Unlike the 2008 Act, the Bill does not contain a disapplication provision giving Ministers discretion to approve a decision that has been amended since being approved by Parliament. That is deliberate. We want Parliament to approve the final version, although it will of course be examining the proposals from an early stage under the existing arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation.
I should emphasise that these provisions will apply only when the Government intend to agree to a measure. If the Government of the day did not support the exercise of any of the ratchet clauses, they would simply block their adoption. However, the pledge in the coalition agreement and the commitment in the Bill provide that when the Government would be in favour of such a decision, Parliament must approve it first.
I did not intend to speak, but as the Minister refused to give way—it was the first time I had ever seen a Minister do that in Committee—I wanted to make one very brief point. [Interruption.] I see that the Whip is fulminating. He can go and fulminate on his own.
The problem with the Bill, and with clause 7 in particular, is that it will make it more difficult for us to negotiate with other countries to achieve the outcomes that we want for the British people. Let us suppose, for example, that France introduced a law similar to this and we tried to negotiate a proposal that is in the coalition agreement, namely that we should end the ludicrous caravanserai between Brussels and Strasbourg. It is laid down in the treaties that the European Parliament shall have two places in which to sit, which is ludicrous given the vast amount of money that is spent on the two buildings, the vast inconvenience caused to people, and the creation of a monopoly air service which is also ludicrously expensive. Moreover, I do not think that all that has resulted in a better policy and decision-making process. However, if the French Government had a law such as this, they would simply block every treaty change that might be in our interests.
As always, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but has he not just made the case for why the Bill is so important? In the example that he has given, it would be possible for the French Government to say to other European Governments, “This is in the interests of my country, and I will therefore not be able to get it through.” Is that not the great merit of the Bill, and is it not the sort of Bill that we would never have seen from the Government of whom he was a member?
Order. I am not calling a Division on this one!
I do not think you are able to call one, Mr Evans.
The hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) seems to be arguing that we should adopt a French style of intransigence, permanently trying solely to defend the British interest. In the end, such an approach cuts off our nose to spite our face. I do not think that anybody here thinks that the double-sitting arrangement is sensible, and most French politicians would agree in private. If this country starts setting up barriers to try to make it more difficult to change anything in the European Union, other countries will do the same and we will end up keeping some of the anomalies and ludicrous elements of the European Union. That is why I oppose the clause. I would have dealt with all that in a short intervention on the Minister.
I do not understand this. The hon. Gentleman says, “It is in the treaty” but this Bill has nothing to do with changing the treaty and is about circumstances that may arise in the future. So what point is he making? If the treaty provides for movement between the two centres on a rotating basis, it is mandatory, is it not? How does this relate to the Bill?
The Bill does make reference to treaty change, and understandably so. I thought that the whole argument that the hon. Gentleman and many others have made over the past three or four years during discussion of the Lisbon treaty and its predecessor was that because a treaty change was involved, there should be a referendum. All I am saying is that if that had been the proposition in France, we would never see an end to that element of treaty change. I would, however, be amazed if the Government make any progress on trying to change the Strasbourg provisions, although perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us on that.
The hon. Gentleman mentions that the dual site of the European Parliament is provided for in the treaties. Surely the key issue is that the coalition agreement says that we are going to deal with this situation. The opportunity to do so is coming up, because the eurozone needs our agreement to a new treaty. In return for our agreement, surely we could demand that the European Parliament move to a single site, thus fulfilling what is in the coalition agreement.
That little speech was the definition of “denial”, because there is no prospect of the French volunteering a treaty change on the Strasbourg sittings unless an enormous contribution is to be made from our side, which the Government would be able to deliver only if they were holding a referendum. By forcing referendums here, which means that the Government cannot give anything away, the Bill is making it impossible to win the argument on closing down Strasbourg—I mean the sittings there, not the city.
The issue that the hon. Gentleman raises in his example is clear. He suggests that the French would be reluctant to give away the right to have the two sites. That just illustrates the point that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) made about the French sticking up for their interests, and it touches on the whole point of this Bill. It seems extraordinary for a Member of Parliament to say, “We don’t like the Bill because sticking up for our interests might in some way damage the whole European project.” That is not what we are trying to do.
I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I am sure that that is my fault, because I cannot have expressed this at sufficient length or ably enough. The point I am trying to make is that our insistence that there will be no treaty change without a referendum makes it more difficult for us to achieve changes in the treaty that we want to pursue, because other countries will simply say, “We know that you are determined not to have any treaty change whatsoever, which is why you have created this referendum lock and all the rest of it.” That is why, I think, Government Members who are delighted that the coalition is committed to trying to change the situation in relation to the dual sittings and Strasbourg are profoundly deluded.
Referendums in different countries operate in different ways. I think that I have heard the Minister say on a couple of occasions both here and elsewhere that there was never a referendum that supported the Lisbon treaty. That is completely untrue, as the Spaniards were the first to hold a referendum and it had an 83% or 84% yes vote, so he is wrong about that.
I think I have made my argument on Strasbourg.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point. He has used the example of Strasbourg, but he is making a wider point. The process of change in the European Union, as anybody who knows anything at all about it will be aware, is based on negotiations. The point of the Bill is that it makes it impossible for future Governments in this country to negotiate in Britain’s national interest.
Absolutely. There are many different things in the European Union—many determined in treaty—that I want to change as a pro-European and as somebody who wants always to defend the British interest. I do not see those two things running counter to each other. My argument in essence is that the Government must have enough freedom to proceed in negotiations, so that they can gain concessions from the other side. If a country has already locked itself down, it is impossible to gain concessions from the other side.
I would suggest that the hon. Gentleman has not entirely seen my point. A referendum is only one lever that the UK can use to extract concessions. Our agreement is needed on the new treaty for the eurozone, which is desperately needed to try to put in place a permanent bail-out mechanism. My suggestion and, as I understand it, the commitment in the coalition agreement is that as a coalition we will ensure that the Parliaments move to one site and work to limit the application of the working time directive in the UK. Surely that new treaty gives us an opportunity to do so.
No, because one requires treaty change and the other does not. If we have already locked ourselves down by saying that any element of change would have to be submitted to a referendum, when we effectively know that most referendums on many of these issues would be lost in the UK—that is the whole tenor of the argument made by the hon. Gentleman and others on the Government Benches—it will be impossible for us to negotiate with a free hand. In the end, that will be bad for the British interest.
I want to make an offer to Members of running classes on how the EU works. Anybody who has ever worked in the EU would turn in their grave if we were to rerun the past 10 minutes—except those who are not there yet. The comments have shown a complete and utter lack of understanding of how the EU works and how treaty changes work. What is most amazing about the Bill is that I find myself for the first time in years agreeing with those on my Front Bench—that shows how wrong the Government are. Negotiations are different; none of this has anything to do with clause 7 and hon. Members are utterly wrong. I am happy to run a workshop on that afterwards.
It is a delight to agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that she and I have ever agreed on anything before. That is perhaps a slight exaggeration; I think we agreed that a Labour Government were better than a Conservative one.
Many thanks for calling me to speak, Mr Evans. I think I have made my one point eight times now, and that will probably suffice.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Decisions under Article 352 of TFEU
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 26, page 7, line 7, leave out subsections (5) to (7) and add—
‘(5) This subsection is complied with if—
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to support a specified draft decision and is of the opinion that the decision relates only to one or more of the following purposes—
(i) to make provision equivalent to that made by a measure previously adopted under Article 352 of TFEU, where that previous measure was adopted following the commencement of section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 and the draft decision relating to that measure was approved by Act of Parliament;
(ii) to repeal existing measures adopted under Article 352 of TFEU;
(iii) to consolidate existing measures adopted under Article 352 of TFEU without any change of substance, where those existing measures were adopted following the commencement of section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 and the draft decisions relating to those measures were approved by Act of Parliament; and
(b) each House agrees to the motion without amendment.’.
Amendment 43, page 7, line 7, leave out subsections (5) to (7).
Clause stand part.
The amendments have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and myself, as well as several other Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd), for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley), and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) of the Democratic Unionist party.
We are dealing with a very broad provision in the treaty known as article 352, which is generally described as a flexibility clause but which has an ancient and controversial history. Even back in the 1970s, before I came to the House, when I was practising law, I was discussing a very controversial provision known as article 308, and I shall tell hon. Members why. When, in our legal processes and legislative procedures we pass laws, we do so on the basis of what is stated in an Act of Parliament and we consider the words. Some of the remarks I made in the previous debate on clause 7 about abstract principles are related to this issue. Ordinary statutes, particularly in the field of administrative law, frequently make certain provisions after a whole series of propositions in different sections. Right at the end, there is often an expression such as, “And all such measures as may be regarded as reasonably necessary to carry out these functions,” but they are very carefully constrained by the administrative court, and the tests are quite significant. If there is a catch-all provision that has the effect of enlarging the existing treaty arrangements, it is incredibly important to make sure that what is included can be justified and has proper authority.
In the context of legislation that comes to the House and thereafter affects the daily lives of the electorate, we already know, for reasons that I do not need to enlarge on, that the manner in which legislation is implemented could, in a nutshell, be one or two lines or a paragraph in a treaty that are equivalent to an entire Act of Parliament. With that comes a whole process of interpretation that is different from our own, because it is not necessarily precise and because it looks at purposes—it has a purposive quality. Then there are provisions relating to subsidiarity that generally are not adhered to.
When we are dealing with a specific treaty and considering its wording and range, we should ask, when it becomes part of UK legislation through section 2 of the European Communities Act, as enforced by the courts and their system of interpretation, how far and to what extent it was anticipated that the legislation being spelt out, even in a treaty, would result in certain consequences in terms of the precise policies that will emerge from the process. It is incumbent on us to implement the law, under section 2, but at the same time there is a great degree of collateral within which the actual provisions in a treaty are brought into effect, and there is also their effect on the people to consider. In many instances, people could not reasonably have been expected to know exactly how that provision would turn out in policy.
I happen to be a bit of a traditionalist and I think that when we pass legislation it should be consistent with policy making, but sometimes I think that my hon. Friends—I say this with great respect to them—are not necessarily quite as conscious when considering such issues about the direct impact of it all on the electorate, or about the degree of discretion that we are giving both to the European Union and to Ministers in implementing these sorts of provisions.
What is the effect of article 352? I shall explain my concerns about the Bill in relation to that wide-ranging provision, and I shall quote from article 352. It is important to set that out, as it is the framework for my general concern. Article 352 states:
“If action by the Union should prove necessary”—
that is a big question; who says?—
“within the framework of the policies defined in the Treaties”—
which have an enormously wide ambit, including what they involve, their purpose, nature and interpretation—
“to attain one of the objectives set out in the Treaties, and the Treaties have not provided the necessary powers, the Council, acting unanimously”—
that is important—
“on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, shall adopt the appropriate measures.”
The article continues:
“Where the measures in question are adopted by the Council in accordance with a special legislative procedure, it shall also act unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament”—
not Ministers, though they have the right to determine whether or not they will apply the unanimity rule.
There is then a provision stating that where subsidiarity arises,
“the Commission shall draw national Parliaments’ attention to proposals based on this Article.”
The article goes on to say that such measures shall not entail the harmonisation of member states’ laws or regulations where the treaties say that there should not be such harmonisation. Finally, it states—this is important—that the article cannot serve as a basis for attaining objectives relating to foreign and security policy, and it imposes certain restrictions consistent with limits set out in article 40 of the Treaty on European Union.
That is what article 352 states. It is a very wide provision. It is certainly subject to unanimity by the Council. I therefore assume that my right hon. Friend the Minister will assure us that the veto would be used, were the existing treaties—wide and deep as they are and effective as they are on our constituents—to be amplified by the use of that extremely wide power. I should mention that a few years ago the European Scrutiny Committee went over to see the Commission and its legal advisers. We had a full report on the provision in question, which at that time was described as article 308.
My amendments would knock out the provisions that would enlarge the Government’s capacity to bypass—I use this language carefully—the principles on which I assume Parliament would want to insist. Because of the ambit of the measure, we should ensure that it is used as tightly as possible.
At the moment, the article can be used only where the existing treaties have not provided the necessary powers. Clause 8(1) provides that any one of the conditions in subsections (3), (4) or (5) has to be satisfied in relation to an article 352 decision, but subsection (3) contains the general rule, which is the one that I would insist on, which is that the UK may not agree to a decision under this broad article unless the decision has been approved by Act of Parliament. That is fundamental. Where there is this enormous expansion of power, fundamentally it should be done only where the decision has been approved by Act of Parliament. I have no problem with that whatever.
Subsection (4) provides for parliamentary approval of urgent or emergency uses of the flexibility clause without the need for an Act of Parliament. The explanatory notes say that this
“has been used in the past for urgent or emergency uses, where rapid EU action has been agreed but where there was no explicit legal basis on which to base that action”,
and that certain sub-paragraphs stipulate
“that the UK may agree to the adoption of a measure based on Article 352 in urgent or emergency cases if”
approved by motion without amendment in each House of Parliament. I regard that as perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. So we have a process and an agreement. First, it has to be unanimous, then it comes to Parliament, and then it has to be approved by Parliament because it affects people and it is so broad that restrictive control needs to be kept over how the process operates in this House.
Subsection (5) provides
“that an Act of Parliament would not be required for any Article 352 proposal which satisfies any of the exemptions listed in subsection (6).”
According to the explanatory notes, the exemptions are to
“prevent…Acts of Parliament to approve measures which have been agreed in substance under previous measures using Article 352”.
In those circumstances, a Minister has to lay a statement before Parliament saying that the use of a flexibility clause is for an exempt purpose, in which case parliamentary approval is not required. This is where I have great difficulty. The ambit of article 352 is such that it seems that there are no exceptional circumstances in which the exemptions specified in subsection (6) should divest Parliament of the opportunity to approve. Basically, the fundamental point that I seek to make is that those provisions should be left out.
As the debate proceeds, I hope that this point will become more obvious, because other amendments will give specific instances of the manner in which the arrangements would operate. I simply wanted to indicate that I am not in favour of the exemption that the Government are giving. Under subsection (6), the exempt purposes include—some of the language is rather arcane—
“to extend a measure previously adopted under that Article to another member State or other country”.
I am extremely concerned, for many reasons that I have already touched on and hope to come back to later, where we say something will affect us as part of the EU only in certain circumstances.
My worry, which permeates much of my concern about the Bill, is about the cases in which someone might say, “Well, it affects only the eurozone, not us.” I strongly believe that in such circumstances we must be vigilant, because the eurozone does affect us and whatever we do will affect us. It seems to me that we should be vigilant and ensure that parliamentary approval is needed in circumstances where a measure has been adopted under the article and extended to another member state. I am issuing a general concern about the whole area.
Article 352 is very broad, as I think the Minister will accept. I understand that it is subject to unanimity and that in limited circumstances there would be a case for something short of an Act of Parliament, but I do not think that there are circumstances, in the cases that I have described and within the framework of those exemptions, where it is so broad that Parliament should effectively be bypassed. That is my main proposition, but there are other specific matters that colleagues will raise.
I will be brief, Mr Evans. I had quite a decent speech written on these amendments, but I want to move on to the meat of the justice and home affairs matters that we will discuss shortly. With regard to clause 8, the Bill is a definite improvement on the current situation, and I am pleased that the presumption is that an Act is required. My concern is about the get-out clause, in clause 8, that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has just mentioned, according to which the Minister can table a statement that certain matters are exempt.
Amendment 26 is not a blanket amendment that would require everything to have an Act, as would my hon. Friend’s amendment, because I understand that some things might need a lesser level of scrutiny in this place, but I am concerned about proposals that would prolong the existing flexibility clause or extend it to another country. Those are the two areas that should be approved by an Act. I am happy to see other areas approved by resolution in each House. The example that my hon. Friend might have been searching for is that relating to balance of payments loaned to non-eurozone member states in 2002 that came through such a flexibility clause, similar to the article 122 measures that we have just seen. That is the explanation for my amendment, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for the courteous and logical way in which they have set out their views and spoken to the amendments.
Clause 8 provides for the prior parliamentary approval of a decision by the Government to support future uses of article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union through an Act of Parliament, subject to certain defined exceptions. Article 352 can be used to adopt measures in order to attain one of the EU’s objectives where the existing treaties have not provided the specific legal base on which to do so.
The measures concerned are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone acknowledged fairly, subject to the British veto, require unanimity among all member states and must remain within the confines of the EU’s objectives. Nevertheless, because of its enabling nature, the use of article 352 of TFEU has led in the past—quite understandably, I happily concede—to concerns that it can be used to facilitate competence creep. It is an article in whose use the scrutiny Committees in both Houses have taken a great interest, and I am sure that that interest will continue.
In responding to my hon. Friends, I will start by saying that the use of article 352 is now subject to much greater constraints than it was prior to the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. In particular, it must be read in conjunction with declarations 41 and 42, annexed to that treaty. They set out four criteria that govern the application of the article. First, article 352
“cannot serve as a basis for widening the scope of Union powers beyond the general framework created by the provisions of the Treaties as a whole and, in particular, by those that define the tasks and activities of the Union”.
It is also important to make the point that a fair number of those policy areas that in the past involved the use of article 352 have now, in the Lisbon treaty, specific treaty bases of their own. That means that in future it will not be possible to bring forward measures on the basis of article 352, because an alternative, defined and specific legal base will exist.
Let me illustrate that point to the Committee. Sanctions have been the subject of article 352 measures in the past, but we now have article 215(2) of the Lisbon treaty, which deals with measures to apply sanctions against natural or legal persons and groups of non-state entities. Similarly, articles 212 and 213 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union make provision for measures of macro-economic assistance to third countries—again a policy area for which, before Lisbon, article 352 was used as the legal base.
Secondly, article 352 cannot be used as a basis for the adoption of provisions whose effect would in substance be to amend the treaties without following the procedure that they provide for that purpose. Thirdly, the article cannot be used to harmonise natural laws in cases where the treaties exclude such harmonisation. Fourthly, the article cannot be used to obtain objectives pertaining to the common foreign and security policy.
I understand exactly what the Minister says, but I am sure he will concede that that is all without prejudice to the fact that the measure is an expansion of what is a very wide provision in itself. For example, on the point that he has just made, there is a self-amendment provision in the treaty. It is difficult in such debates to get right down to the nuts and bolts, but basically this is a problem of an expanding treaty provision that was widely construed and widely drafted in the first place.
Given the history of the article’s use, I do not blame my hon. Friend for being properly sceptical and inquiring about how it might be used in future, but the Lisbon treaty now sets out explicit and specific treaty bases to govern policy areas and legislative measures that were previously the subject of article 352 authority, so it rules out the article’s future use to authorise measures in those categories.
Despite the greater restrictions on the use of article 352, and although it is not a ratchet clause under the definition that the Government have tried to apply consistently, given its significance we have decided that its use should be subject to greater parliamentary control. At the moment, as my hon. Friend acknowledges, its use is subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny as any other proposal for EU legislation, and the Bill makes it clear that this Government do not believe that that is sufficient, hence the inclusion of clause 9. The provisions will apply to proposals for which article 352 forms one part of the legal base and to proposals based on article 352 exclusively.
The article has been used in the past to authorise a range of important measures: to set up EU agencies such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights; to set up things such as a community civil protection mechanism; and to enable member states to work together to mitigate damage from natural or man-made disasters. They were important decisions, and they exemplify exactly the sort of legislation that will require an Act of Parliament under this Bill before the United Kingdom is able to sign up to it.
I turn, however, to the exemptions. Where legislation based on article 352 is equivalent to a previous measure, prolongs or renews an existing measure or extends a previous measure in terms of its geographical scope, we do not think it right to require an Act of Parliament in order to agree to it—if the substance of the measure is identical to a previously agreed measure. If it is not identical, the measure should none the less be subjected to parliamentary approval by Act of Parliament. Similarly, we do not judge that an Act of Parliament is an appropriate requirement if the legislation simply repeals existing measures or consolidates, without adding to, existing measures made under that article. Any proposal for legislation based on that article, even if the Government consider that it is covered by one of the exemptions, would of course remain subject to the normal arrangements for the scrutiny of EU legislation and the powers of the two scrutiny Committees.
It is worth noting that the use of article 352 for legislative proposals will now also be subject to the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. I encourage the scrutiny Committees to continue the work that they are doing on the use of yellow and orange cards, because they might wish to take advantage of such opportunities in relation to measures under article 352.
If a Minister intends to rely on any of the exemptions in the Bill, he is required by clause 8 to lay before Parliament a statement setting out his reasoning. Parliament and the public will be able to judge whether the proposal in question really does fall under an exemption, to challenge the decision of the Minister, and, in the case of Parliament, to override that decision.
The three proposed amendments to clause 8 would make substantive changes to the treatment of uses of article 352 that do not require primary legislation under the Bill. Amendment 26 would narrow the scope of the exempt purposes under which uses of the article can be agreed without primary legislation. It would remove the requirement for a Minister to make a statement to Parliament and replace it with a vote in both Houses. The consequence of the first change would be that only uses of the article that were equivalent to a previous use or that consolidated previous uses of the article, which themselves had been adopted in line with the provisions of the Bill, including through primary legislation, would be considered exempt from the primary legislation requirement. The consequence of the amendment, therefore, would be that Parliament would have to approve through primary legislation a number of uses of article 352 that it had already considered. It does not seem sensible to legislate on issues whose substance Parliament has already considered and approved.
The requirement for a positive vote in both Houses in place of a Minister’s statement would, again, place significant demands on Parliament’s time. Such proposals are already subject to the requirements of parliamentary scrutiny. If the scrutiny Committees thought it necessary, they could recommend that the question of whether such a proposal was exempt be subjected to debate. That debate would be on a motion that could be amended, so Parliament would be able to express its view of the Minister’s judgment.
Amendment 26 would also mean that both Houses would have to approve the repeal of an existing article 352 measure. Providing for a vote on the repeal of European Union legislation is not in-keeping with the overall objective of the Bill, which is to enhance public and parliamentary control over future decisions in the EU—not previous decisions that are being terminated. For those reasons, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry not to press the amendment.
Amendments 43 and 53 seek to remove the exempt purpose criteria from clause 8. The effect would be that primary legislation would be required for every single use of article 352. For the reasons I have outlined, I do not judge that requiring primary legislation for each and every use of the article, including the repeal, consolidation or extension of existing measures without further EU action, is proportionate or necessary. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Stone to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
I am happy to seek to withdraw the amendment in the circumstances, without prejudice to my concerns about the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Approval required in connection with Title V of Part 3 of TFEU
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 27, page 7, line 33, leave out from ‘measure’ to end of line 44 and insert
‘presented to the Council pursuant to Title V of Part 3 of TFEU, apart from a notification in relation to a measure that, at the time of the notification, would if adopted extend the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations.’.
Amendment 99, page 7, leave out lines 34 to 36.
Amendment 98, page 7, leave out lines 37 to 44.
Amendment 47, page 7, line 44, at end insert—
‘(d) the provision of Article 83(2) of TFEU (harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions) that permits the establishment by directive of minimum rules with regard to the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in an area subject to harmonisation measures by the same ordinary or special legislative procedure as was followed for the adoption of the harmonisation measures in question.’.
Amendment 28, page 8, line 1, at end insert—
‘(3A) Subject to subsection (3B), a Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under Article 4 of the Schengen Protocol that would cause the United Kingdom to participate in further provisions of the Schengen acquis, unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to support the draft decision.
(3B) Subsection (3A) does not apply to a decision that falls under section 6(4)(k).
(3C) In subsection (3A), “the Schengen Protocol” has the same meaning as that given in section 6(5).’.
Amendment 29, page 8, line 1, at end insert—
‘(3D) A Minister of the Crown may not permit the United Kingdom’s participation in the final adoption of a measure building upon the Schengen acquis unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty’s Government’s intention that the United Kingdom will participate in final adoption of the measure.’.
Amendment 30, page 8, line 3, leave out from ‘under’ to end of line 5 and insert
‘any of the following unless the draft decision has been approved by Act of Parliament—
(a) the provision of Article 77(3) of TFEU that permits the adoption of provisions concerning passports, identity cards, residence permits or any other such document;
(b) the provision of Article 81(3) of TFEU that permits the adoption of measures concerning family law with cross-border implications through a special legislative procedure;
(c) the provision of Article 87(3) of TFEU that permits the adoption of measures concerning operational co-operation between the authorities referred to in Article 87 of TFEU;
(d) the provision of Article 89 of TFEU on the operation of certain competent authorities of a member State in the territory of another member State.’.
Amendment 31, page 8, line 7, leave out from ‘measure’ to end of line 16 and insert
‘unless the notification in respect of the measure has been approved by Act of Parliament; but this provision shall not apply to a notification in relation to—
(a) a measure extending the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations;
(b) a measure adopted under Article 81(3) of TFEU (family law) that determines those aspects of family law with cross-border implications that may be subject to the ordinary legislative procedure;
(c) a measure adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU (minimum rules on criminal procedure) that identifies a further specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate;
(d) a measure adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU (particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension) that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.’.
Amendment 34, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(7) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of a measure, or to accept a measure, to which this subsection applies unless—
(a) the notification is approved by Act of Parliament; and
(b) the referendum condition is met.
(8) The referendum condition is that set out in section 3(2), with references to a decision being read for the purposes of subsection (7) as references to a notification.
(9) Subsection (7) applies to a measure that includes, at the time of notification by a Minister of the Crown under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol, the extension of the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations.’.
Amendment 35, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(7) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to accept a measure to which this subsection applies unless—
(a) the notification is approved by Act of Parliament; and
(b) the referendum condition is met.
(8) The referendum condition is that set out in section 3(2), with references to a decision being read for the purposes of subsection (7) as references to a notification.
(9) Subsection (7) applies to the following—
(a) a measure adopted under Article 81(3) of TFEU (family law) that determines those aspects of family law with cross-border implications that may be subject to the ordinary legislative procedure;
(b) a measure adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU (minimum rules on criminal procedure) that identifies a futher specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate; and
(c) a measure adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU (particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension) that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.’.
Amendment 39, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(7) In addition to the approval required in accordance with subsection (1) or (4), as the case may be, a Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of a measure, or to accept a measure, to which this subsection applies unless—
(a) the previous decision by virtue of which that measure is proposed or was established has been approved by Act of Parliament; and
(b) the referendum condition in relation to that previous decision has been met.
(8) The referendum condition is that set out in section 3(2), with references to a decision being read for the purposes of subsection (7) as references to a previous decision.
(9) Subsection (7) applies to a measure proposed or established under Article 82(2) or 83(1) of TFEU by virtue of either—
(a) a previous decision, in which the United Kingdom does not participate, adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU that identifies a further specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate;
(b) a previous decision, in which the United Kingdom does not participate, adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.’.
New clause 5—Approval required in connection with Title V—
‘(1) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification to which this subsection applies unless Parliamentary approval has been given in accordance with subsection (3).
(2) Subsection (1) applies in relation to a notification under Article 3 of Protocol (No. 21) on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to TEU and TFEU (the “AFSJ Protocol”) and Article 4 of the Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of any measure proposed under Title V.
(3) Parliamentary approval is given if—
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to give notification in respect of a specified measure, and
(b) each House agrees to the motion without amendment.
(4) Despite any Parliamentary approval given for the purposes of subsection (1), a Minister may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under a provision falling within Title V unless the draft decision is approved by Act of Parliament.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to accept a measure unless the notification in respect of the measure has been approved by Act of Parliament.’.
We come to a new subject area, that of freedom, security and justice, which used to be known as the judicial and home affairs pillar of the EU. As the clause stands, it would require parliamentary approval for a UK decision to opt in to certain provisions in the area of freedom, security and justice. At the moment, as I am sure the Committee knows, the UK enjoys an opt-out in that area. Were a decision to be taken to opt in to one of the matters specified in clause 9, parliamentary approval would therefore be needed.
Three such matters are specified in clause 9(2). Generally, they seem to cover further developments in the field that are not specifically set out in the freedom, security and justice chapter, which is chapter 5 of the treaty of Lisbon. I should say that that is a lengthy chapter containing many matters. I think I can see the Government’s thinking, which is to cover further developments in European law and new ideas in the field of family law, criminal procedure and serious crime. I agree with that thinking, as far as it goes, because it means that opt-ins on those matters will require parliamentary approval.
It should be said straight away that that is an improvement on the current situation, in which there is no requirement for approval of any of the important matters specified in the clause. There will therefore be additional protection, if one wants to look at it that way, and there will certainly be an additional role for the House, which will be required to give its approval before the UK can opt in.
My amendment 14 would take matters further in a logical way, by making any chapter 5 opt-in subject to the same parliamentary approval that is required for the three matters specified in the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for tabling the amendment. Does he share my sadness that since May 2010, the Government have opted in to eight such provisions, including on such matters as the European investigation order, a new IT agency and a new crime and immigration database that will cost €113 million to set up, without the House having had any say in the decision?
The hon. Lady has updated my information, which goes only as far as 30 November, by which point there had been six opt-ins. There have therefore been another two since, and they are coming along all the time. We heard evidence in the European Scrutiny Committee that 30 or 40 such opt-ins were due to take place. The EU has an ambitious programme in that regard—that is not an expression of opinion; it has admitted it. I shall deal with that later.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that some of the opt-ins are on important points, and I shall come to one or two of them that I experienced under the previous procedure. I should like to ask the Minister how many of the provisions that we have opted in to since the present Government came to power would have been covered by the procedures in clause 9. I fully accept that those procedures are an improvement on the current situation, but I should like to know how well they cover the ground.
As the hon. Lady said, some of the opt-ins have been significant. I wish to mention two in particular—they were debated a little yesterday, so I will not take the Committee over the same ground. They are the European investigation order, which received practically no scrutiny in the House and on which we had no opportunity for a vote, and the draft directive on the right to information, which was also very important. We had a little more scrutiny of it, but no real opportunity for a vote unless one was prepared to trigger a deferred Division.
Under successive Governments, the UK has been very careful and vigilant about permitting the EU to deal with the so-called area of freedom, security and justice, which is dealt with in clause 9. That goes back to pre-Maastricht days, when such matters were dealt with on the basis first of informal co-operation, and then of slightly more formal co-operation, between Home Affairs Ministers. They were not dealt with as part of the treaties or Community institutions—Home Affairs Ministers simply met to co-operate as such.
The Maastricht treaty put that on a more formal basis with what was described as the justice and home affairs pillar, which was the third pillar of the treaty. The first pillar was the old matters within the treaty—the single market, fisheries and agricultural policy, and all the rest of it—and the second was common foreign security policy.
One or two hon. Members who are in the Chamber now were in the House at the time of that treaty, and there was much debate on the justice and home affairs pillar. We were assured—I remember being given a solemn assurance by an authoritative figure in the Government of the time—that the treaty settled the problem as far as justice and home affairs were concerned, that we need not worry about home affairs coming within the purview of the Community method and Community institutions, and that they were being kept separate. The same applied to the common foreign security policy. The implication was that the pillars in the treaty would stand for ever, and that they were all the protection and assurance we needed. I am reluctant to say this but I have heard similar claims in respect of many other so-called safeguards since then, including in the course of this debate.
I am afraid that I was credulous. We were perhaps willing to believe and wanted to believe what we were told. We knew that it was right for the UK not to come within such matters in the EU so that we did not gradually integrate into a superstate or a federal united states of Europe. Many are still worried about that and we wanted to avoid it, and we thought the pillars were the answer.
One additional safeguard that was introduced in the Lisbon treaty is emergency brake clauses, which can be initiated within six months. They need not even be initiated by the Executive; a national Parliament can do so. What is to prevent the European Scrutiny Committee from doing what it says on the can, scrutinising those things, and initiating a debate and the process that might engage the emergency brake clauses? They are a fundamental check and balance.
My humble amendment 14 proposes only that the House should have a vote on such matters. The hon. Gentleman implied yesterday that he agreed with that. I will turn in more detail to my amendment in a moment, but to dispose of his point, I have been told so many times in the House when we have made a concession to the EU, or agreed to further integration, the granting of competence or additional powers, or changes in its institutional arrangements, “Don’t worry. We are putting safeguards in place.” At the time of Maastricht, that meant the pillar structure. We were then told about subsidiarity, and we now have orange and yellow cards and emergency brakes, but no one has come anywhere near using those devices. We have had subsidiarity for 18 years, and the only time that it was used that I have been told about is in respect of the zoo directive.
I remember being told in the early 1990s that enlargement would have a decentralising effect on the EU, and that the increase in the number of net payers to the EU budget would create downward pressure on it. The history of our relationship with the EU is littered with complacent and wishful ministerial assertions on what will happen as a result of Government actions and agreements in the EU. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Notwithstanding all the assurances, such as the ones that we just heard from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), about the safeguards that are in place and despite all that we have been told over the years, under the treaty of Lisbon judicial and home affairs were planted fairly and squarely in the Community institutions and method, under what was the old first pillar, and subject to the ECJ and all the other EU institutions.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham mentioned the European Scrutiny Committee, so may I say that the investigative order is still subject to scrutiny? He may be assured that we will follow every step, but we have no confidence in that part of the coalition that voted for all these arrangements under the Lisbon treaty—by that, I do not mean the Scrutiny Committee because I am talking about myself.
To be fair to the hon. Member for Cheltenham, he has an honourable and consistent approach to these matters which has a lot of appeal in the country. He is in favour of a more integrated Europe and of expanding the competences of the EU in co-operation with Europe. That is an honourable point of view to take. I take a slightly different view, but I respect him for his views. However, I would point out to him that of all the safeguards that have been mentioned, the one that seems to have been most satisfactory—it is possibly the only one—is the opt-out. When one surveys the history of this country’s participation in the EU, the areas in which people take most satisfaction are those from which we opted out, foremost among which is the single European currency. Some people say that that was one of the greatest achievements of our European policy. All the things that we have gone along with are the subject of great dissatisfaction.
I apologise for missing the start of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I agree with what he says about opt-outs. Would it not be to the advantage of the British people if we could also opt out of, for example, the common fisheries policy?
I confirm that people in Edgbaston also do not talk much about fishing policy.
The reason why the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is so important is that it goes to the heart of the contradiction. We are told that the EU is a political construct in which the Union has only those powers that member states have decided to give it, but when we raise questions we are told that there are safeguards, which actually shows that that is not quite how it works. Proportionality and subsidiarity have not worked—only the opt-out contains the powers, and that is why it is so important.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) made an indirect reference to the opt-in by the Government on the European investigation order. The Government provided the reason—some might that think that it was an excuse—but it could not be scrutinised by the Scrutiny Committee here or in the other place because of the general election. If the political will had been there, would it not have been possible to have at least informal consultation with leading members of the outgoing Committee, so that the Government had an indication of informed Back-Bench opinion on the issue?
During the period that the hon. Gentleman’s party was in office, we tried informal consultations, formal consultations and many other forms of consultation, and we did not get very far. To be fair to Ministers, this clause is a step forward and improves on the position that they inherited. I am trying to go just a little further than that, because this is such an important issue. I seem to remember that we were told that the opt-out on justice, freedom and security was one of the differences between the defunct constitutional treaty and the treaty of Lisbon—that the UK had an opt-out. That was given as one reason why we did not require a referendum.
I also seem to recollect—I will be corrected if I am wrong—that justice and home affairs were described as one of the then Government’s “red lines” when they were negotiating the treaty of Lisbon. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that he was not prepared to cross those red lines. The opt-out was one of those red lines, so if the present Government opt in to those areas, we will have crossed those red lines. That illustrates how important the issue is. However, I give credit to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, because they are taking it very seriously indeed. They have made a lot of progress, but we are not talking about something over which, like it or not, the European Union has competence, because it does not. That is the important point.
We have opted out. We can sit back. We do not need to do anything as far as those matters are concerned. We are not in a position, which we would be in if we had not opted out—that is, if we had ordinary membership and were involved in ordinary participation—where we could be outvoted on qualified majority voting; nor, if something was subject to unanimity, would we face being in the possibly invidious position of being the only ones objecting to it, thereby holding up all the other members and preventing them from doing something that they wanted to do. Those considerations do not arise. We have opted out of those matters, and there is no pressure on us to opt in to them. Opting in would be a voluntary decision on our part, and would mean choosing to submit ourselves to the institutions of the European Union—the Community method and the jurisdiction of the European Court—and to abnegate self-government for this country on those matters.
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. He is extolling the virtue of opt-outs, as opposed to using emergency brake clauses, which are designed to provide a safeguard against the opt-in procedure. However, to put the boot on the other foot, has he or any of his hon. Friends ever attempted to initiate any of the brake clauses, which, as I have said, is in the hands of national Parliaments, not Governments? If not, what is his real complaint?
Why should we want to opt in to something and then apply the emergency brake? I do not understand the thinking on that. If we opted in, that would presumably be because we saw some virtue in doing so and would not want immediately to put our foot on the brake. However, the hon. Gentleman has an honourable position on this issue. I have a completely different view: I want our criminal and civil law to be made in this country, I want the people of this country to exercise self-government over themselves, and I want them to be able to change Governments by exercising their votes. They would not be able to do any of that if we had opted in, because then we would be submitting ourselves voluntarily to European government, as opposed to democratic self-government in this country. There is therefore a fundamental difference between us.
It is significant if we decide to opt in because once we have done so, we could become subject to amendments on the same matters. Although we would have an opt-in on those as well, we would none the less be under a great deal of pressure, facing the prospect of financial penalties, were we not to opt in to any proposals that came along. We took a lot of evidence in the European Scrutiny Committee on that issue from the former Foreign Secretary, particularly about the unsatisfactory arrangements that were made for new opt-ins, as well as the existing opt-ins to the former judicial and home affairs pillar, where we face financial penalties. One cannot be said to be exercising a free choice if one faces a financial penalty for not going along with something.
More importantly, we are also submitting ourselves to the European Court of Justice. In debates on previous groups of amendments we heard some good examples of what can happen with competence creep under the old article 308. However, competence creep can also come about, as it has done, through the European Court of Justice exercising its jurisdiction. We are voluntarily submitting ourselves to that jurisdiction, and that does not apply only to cross-border matters, which is the pretence. Rather, we are submitting to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in every element of criminal law and civil law, and in all our courts across the country, if we opt in to matters that govern those elements.
We sometimes complain about the lack of transparency in EU decision making, but to be fair to the European Union there is no lack of transparency about its ambitions. I believe that one of its ambitions is to build an area of freedom, security and justice; I disagree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham on that. In President Barroso’s state of the Union address last autumn—he has one as well as President Obama now—he said that it was the European Union’s third top priority to build such an area. That is also in the treaty of Lisbon. We can expect to see many proposals on European contract law and many other issues in the coming year or so, and we shall have to decide whether to opt in to them or not. The proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and others have put in place would be of great assistance when those matters come before the House for consideration.
I commend the interest and commitment of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on this issue. They have recognised that it is a problem, and set out to deal with it in a much better way than it has ever been dealt with before. We now have clause 9. In addition, a written ministerial statement was made last week. It did not go quite as far as I would have wished, but I have a lot of wishes in that regard. It represented a significant improvement, however, and we have been promised a substantive vote when there is interest in these substantial matters in the House, to enable hon. Members to express their approval. There is still a question of who decides which matters are of great interest, but this is at least a step forward.
I hope that time will be found and that we will have those votes, because it is very much in the interest of the Government and the House that they take place. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to exercise the legislative override but to permit a full debate on these matters on a substantive motion, preferably on the Floor of the House, with a vote at the end of it. They have promised to discuss these matters with the European Scrutiny Committee and its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone—I know that he stands ready to help in those discussions—and to facilitate debates and votes taking place in the House.
I am sure that constructive discussions will take place on how this can be arranged, and on how we can improve our scrutiny of these matters. I know that Ministers take their responsibilities very seriously, and I hope that they will take from this the message that, while we regard all scrutiny as important, it is particularly important in regard to the opt-ins that would bring us within the purview of European Union institutions for the first time. It is especially important that we should have debates and votes on them, and that Ministers should listen to the messages that they receive. They should consult members of the European Scrutiny Committee and listen to what they are told, and we should proceed on that basis.
I would prefer us not to opt in to any of these things. I would prefer us to exercise the opt-out, but we are where we are. If we are going to have the possibility of opt-ins, it is preferable that we have a proper debate and a proper vote on the Floor of the House of Commons, rather than some of the procedures that we have gone through in the past which, despite the diligence and hard work of the European Scrutiny Committee, did not really amount to what our constituents would regard as proper scrutiny, because of the restrictions involved.
I am relying on my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to make good their words, as I am sure that they will wish to do, about further improvements to the parliamentary scrutiny of these matters. I shall not press my amendment to a vote, but I look forward to discussions taking place so that we can build on the improved system that is being put in place to create a much better system of parliamentary scrutiny.
I would like to say a few additional words about clause 9, which follows on directly from what has been said. I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, but I hope that the Minister will respond to the points I raised earlier about the clause. Unfortunately, he simply dismissed my earlier question about the advocates-general. We are in Committee and we have every right to expect proper and considered responses from the Minister.
As the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) said, this is an important issue. It has in the past been a red line in the negotiations, and the opt-ins that are possible in the not-too-distant future should at the very least be subject to proper debate and parliamentary scrutiny. That is absolutely correct. What I am concerned about, to return to a point I made earlier, is the apparent illogicality of the Bill. If, by common agreement, this is an important area, surely there should be careful consideration of whether or not there should be a referendum on this subject.
I am not arguing the case for having referendums generally—as I said in the debate a couple of days ago, there are profound conceptual problems in having a multiplicity of referendums—but I believe this is an important issue. If the Government claim to be producing a piece of legislation that is logical, coherent and systematic, I would like to know their argument for not having a referendum on these opt-ins.
Stemming from that, the Minister has made it abundantly clear—he made it very clear last night—that the Government will not contemplate holding a referendum until 2015 at the earliest, but the issue of these JHA—justice and home affairs—opt-ins will come to the fore in the next few years. It is therefore important to have a proper response from the Government, so the Minister should at the very least attempt to justify his position.
Order. I remind the Committee that there will be no separate clause 9 stand part debate. If anyone wishes to make any comments relevant to that, now is the time to do so.
I shall speak mainly to the amendments I have tabled, talk about the general opt-ins and ask a couple of questions about the written ministerial statement that was issued last Thursday, particularly on how aspects of it might work in the future. I always have questions about the who and when of decision taking.
My amendment 27 deals with something that is missing from the Bill—the body known as Eurojust. Eurojust is not the European public prosecutor, but it represents a massive step towards a European public prosecutor. Under article 85 of TFEU, its remit falls under ordinary legislative procedure, so a proposal comes from the Commission, qualified majority voting applies in the Council and co-decision applies within the European Parliament. It already has a huge amount of power—or it will have, when it is set up.
In April 2010, the European Commission published a document delivering
“an area of freedom, security and justice for Europe’s citizens”,
which was an action plan implementing the Stockholm programme. The Stockholm programme is the five-year European Union plan for justice and home affairs measures, which was adopted by the European Council in December 2009. On page 18 of the document, the European Commission states that in 2012, it will make a proposal for an EU regulation
“giving Eurojust powers to directly initiate investigations.”
Even if the current Government do not opt into the proposal, there is nothing in the Bill to require them to seek Parliament’s or the people’s approval to opt in once the regulation is adopted, allowing Eurojust to initiate investigations in the UK, for example. This is a massive step towards the European public prosecutor. I hope the Minister will reassure me that he will address that point at some stage, if not today.
It may be useful if I provide some examples of significant justice and home affairs matters that the last Government opted into. I could have picked any issue in that category, but I chose the issue of asylum because I know that it always gets the blood flowing.
Among other things, directive 2004/83-EC
“on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted”
sets out the rights enjoyed by those who have been granted refugee status. Some of them go beyond the rights approved for the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees, such as those relating to access to the employment market and social security.
“laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers”,
includes provisions on the rights of asylum seekers to access the jobs market in certain circumstances, and on the accommodation that must be offered to them. Directive 2005/85/EC
“on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for the granting and withdrawing of refugee status”
lays down various restrictions and requirements regarding the procedures that member states can follow in processing asylum claims and withdrawing refugee status. They include specific requirements for the possibility of legal challenge by asylum seekers to various decisions taken as part of the process.
Those pieces of legislation were part of the first wave of the construction of the common European asylum system that was first called for in the Tampere European Council of October 1999. The Commission has been pressing on with further legislation to build that common system since then, and over the past two years it has presented three proposals for directives to replace those that I have cited. The general thrust of the proposals is a desire to further “harmonise” asylum policy and processes across the EU and, as a consequence, to limit national discretion yet further. As it happens, the last Government decided not to opt into those later proposals; but what would happen if this Government, or a future Government, chose to opt into them? It is realistic to assume that, under the Bill, Parliament would have no legal control.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) that the Bill constitutes a step forward in one respect, and I congratulate the Minister on advancing so far. The written ministerial statement on justice and home affairs scrutiny laid before the House last Thursday contains a great deal of common sense, but I think that there is a need for further discussion of the consequences that will flow from it with the European Scrutiny Committee and other interested parliamentarians. Let me quote the key passage. It states that
“in circumstances where there is particularly strong parliamentary interest in the Government's decision on whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government express their willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government's recommended approach on the opt-in. The precise details of these arrangements to allow such debates and the circumstances in which Government time would be set aside will be the subject of further consultation with the European Scrutiny Committees, business managers”
—otherwise known as the wonderful Whips who are so kind and gentle to us all in this place—
“and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees. These discussions will also need to determine how arrangements would operate during periods of parliamentary recess and dissolution of Parliament.”
That is all pretty good.
“However, the Government believe that as a general rule, it would be appropriate to do so in circumstances where they propose to opt in to a measure which would have a substantial impact on the United Kingdom's criminal or civil law, our national security, civil liberties or immigration policy. The Government will also put in place analogous arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of decisions to opt-out of measures under the Schengen protocol.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 52WS.]
The written ministerial statement raises a number of questions. I shall talk about a couple of them now, but I would like to think that discussions can be ongoing and we can flesh out the detail. What would constitute “particularly strong parliamentary interest”? How, therefore, is a debate in Government time triggered? Would it be triggered by a referral by the European Scrutiny Committee? That could be complemented by an additional right whereby a certain number of MPs could trigger such a debate. Does the commitment to a debate and vote cover the opt-in to a justice and home affairs law already adopted by the other member states? The written ministerial statement seemed to indicate otherwise. Similarly, does the commitment cover the opt-in to new aspects of the existing Schengen acquis, such as common visa rules, where this opt-in is not covered by clause 6 of the Bill? Would it cover the opt-in to a pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice law that has ceased to apply to the UK because it exercised the bloc opt-out before June 2014? If it does cover that, how would Parliament be made aware that such an opt-in was being considered by the Government, given that this could happen at any time?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell me if I say something that is incorrect, because I have not had sight of that written ministerial statement. We know that whenever we negotiate an opt-out in Brussels we spend political capital so, by definition, anything that we negotiate to opt out of is significant and an opt-in is a significant step. So any opt-in ought to be debated in Parliament and subject to a substantive vote because it must have been so important that we expended political capital securing it.
I tend to agree with the hon. Lady. When she reads the written ministerial statement, she will see that it represents a huge step forward in our scrutiny of these things in this place and she may see what measures the Government might want to opt into. I wished to raise this question of the opt-in now, because I think that the Bill is a step forward, as is this clause.
I was interested by the intervention made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She has great knowledge of European matters, but she may be wrong about this. Not everything that we are talking about opting into based on these passerelles has been positively opted out of before. We are talking about new ways of working within the competences already set out in those passerelles.
That is possibly the case. I do not wish to give a definite answer, because I am not the expert on this matter and I was just raising it for the Committee in general debate. I am not sure that what the hon. Gentleman describes is the case, but I would hate to say that he is wrong because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, although we might have different views, the factual statements that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has made have invariably been correct.
I am looking forward to the Minister clarifying that for us all. I was discussing the questions about the written ministerial statement where we need things fleshed out. This Government commitment does not require the Government to come before Parliament to get approval for each of their decisions to opt in, which is what the amendments would entail. Although the current Government might give this commitment, it may not apply in the future, whereas a requirement in statute, rather than something in a written ministerial statement, would be expected to withstand the passage of time much better. There are a number of omissions from the written ministerial statement. It does not deal with the timing of the process and whether new proposals are acted on in a different way, and the arrangements for opting into things that have already been adopted by our EU partners causes me concern, because I am not sure whether this process catches that.
Those are all matters of conjecture and question, and they are ways in which we can altogether improve the scrutiny of justice and home affairs opt-ins in the future. I see the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) nodding his head in agreement and I believe there is massive cross-party and cross-Parliament interest in getting this process right for the future. I do not see the issue as politically contentious.
I note the massive steps forward that have been made with this Bill and in the written ministerial statement, so I shall not press my amendments to a vote either. I thank the Minister for coming so far so fast and look forward to working with him on this matter in the future.
Thank you, Mr Evans, for calling me to speak in this debate on clause 9, which is one of the Bill’s key provisions. The treatment of justice and home affairs merits close scrutiny in the Bill. The EU is increasingly seeking to broaden and deepen its authority in this important area. We need only to consider the inception of the Stockholm programme, to which the previous Government signed up, on policing, justice, asylum and borders. It is also illustrated—if further illustration were needed—by the 13% budget increase for this policy area in this year’s EU budget, which is higher than that for any other area. That is a sign of the ambition in Brussels to move bit by bit towards a pan-European legal system, at odds with our distinct history and tradition of justice reflected in the common law, our safeguards for personal freedom and our adversarial court system.
My hon. Friend has touched on a matter of great importance. I welcome the safeguards. It seems to me that justice in other countries is very different from justice in ours, principally on the basis of mutual recognition that many things are the same. It concerns me that we must keep as divorced as possible from the system in France, for example. Even a former French Justice Minister said, “The assumption here is that one is innocent until one is proven guilty, but in reality, with our magistrates courts, it is the other way around.” That will be difficult to reconcile and we must have very strong safeguards.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree entirely with him. We can already see an example of that in the European arrest warrant. We have jumped in and we are now reviewing its domestic implementation and the potential for the international instrument. The presumption of innocence is just one area, as my hon. Friend has suggested, where we have a fundamental difference of legal cultures. I do not think that either party should show that any disrespect.
Brussels certainly has ambitions in that area and with those ambitions in mind I want to point out that there are disappointingly few decisions on JHA policy in the Bill for which, although there is no referendum requirement, parliamentary approval is required before the Government take a decision to opt in. For example, as I understand it the decision to opt into the European investigation order would not have required Parliament’s approval under the Bill despite its ramifications for operational policing and the lack of safeguards for innocent British citizens. Immigration and asylum policy is also left out despite the fact that the EU is currently proposing far-reaching changes in that very important area.
I would be the first to accept that the British people cannot have a referendum on every item of JHA policy, but why cannot their elected representatives have a say on every opt-in to ensure proper democratic scrutiny? I am very encouraged by the Minister’s written statement, which I have looked at closely and which effectively endorsed the principle of a parliamentary vote on JHA opt-ins. That is an important step forward and, as other Members have made clear, it is extremely welcome. As the statement made clear, such a provision would depend first on the discretion of the European Scrutiny Committee and its Chair to call a debate and table a motion. That is fine with the current Committee and Chair, but—if we can possibly imagine this—if it were one day to have a less meticulous Chair or more integrationist members, that check might be diluted. Secondly, the provision would depend on the discretion of Ministers about whether to make Government time available.
It would strengthen the Bill considerably if the arrangements to which the Minister agrees in principle could be spelt out in practice in legislation. I know many Members would welcome such a step.
There is an even more important issue to consider than the individual opt-ins. Britain has to decide by June 2014 whether to accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction over police and justice measures that predate the Lisbon treaty or, alternatively, to opt out altogether. After that date, the full body of pre-Lisbon legislation will come under the control of the Luxembourg Court, so this decision has enormous constitutional implications for our criminal justice system. It represents a unique opportunity for this country either to regain control of our justice agenda or, if we so decide—let us not rule out this option—fully to embrace a pan-European model. I am clear in my own mind that we should preserve our distinct justice system which is famous the world over. It guarantees our personal freedoms and defines the British sense of fair play.
Beyond the technical niceties of the Bill, something bigger is at stake—from habeas corpus to the presumption of innocence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) mentioned, or to free speech, which is poorly protected in France and seems to be disappearing in Hungary but is still cherished in Britain. These abstract legal concepts define our citizenship, our identity, our culture and ultimately our way of life. I respect the fact that others may disagree on this; some may wish to argue the merits of the Napoleonic legacy or the pros and cons of the continental civil law tradition, while others may claim that a pan-European amalgam might just get the best of both worlds. That is fair enough, and those are perfectly respectable positions, but what is not acceptable is for that kind of decision on a matter of that kind of magnitude to be quietly nodded through without the formal debate and approval of the House. I welcome the policy commitment in last week’s written ministerial statement, but we need a commitment that the decision to opt in en bloc will be subject to parliamentary approval and not just a debate, and it would be relatively easy to do that in the Bill.
To conclude, I support the aims of the Bill and much of its content. It has the potential, at least, to transform the country’s relationship with Europe and to restore some transparency and legitimacy to the much-shrouded decision making in Brussels.
In the next group of amendments we will discuss this same topic in relation to a possible Act of Parliament or referendum. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that it would be inconceivable that a Government could implement such a dramatic change to our legal system and our legal culture without a substantial Act, or several Acts, of Parliament? Is a resolution of the House enough to govern this Executive act—this stroke of the pen—by a Minister at a meeting of the Council of Ministers?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; his point is well made. Obviously, if we decided to opt in, legislation would be inevitable, but the question is whether or not we should opt in. That principle should be subject not only to legislative scrutiny but to a debate and a vote.
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, I want to support very strongly what he has been saying. An important factor of the British legal system is the fact that it has been imitated throughout the Commonwealth. Many Commonwealth countries have legal systems based on ours, and if we abandoned our legal system in favour of a completely different system—a continental European system—that would break an important link with the Commonwealth that we should preserve.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree. Indeed, senior members of the judiciary have said the same thing. The Lord Chief Justice recently gave a very informative speech saying that Britain no longer seems to be the champion of the common law. The ever-increasing move towards European integration in this area undermines that. Any proposed opt-in to justice and home affairs legislation, which goes to the very heart of our laws, liberties and way of life, must first be subject to proper oversight by and the approval of the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on their speeches.
After 26 years of scrutinising treaties of one kind or another, sometimes tabling as many as 120 or 140 amendments, debating them in detail and listening to the arguments put forward by Government spokesmen, who say, first, for example, that we have reached the high water mark, and then that the measure is not what some people fear, perhaps it is inevitable that I have developed a certain resistance to the assumption that what we hear from the Front Bench will necessarily occur—I hope that is a nice way of putting it—and that I have become if not cynical, which would be an unfair word, at least uncertain about the consequences that subsequent events may produce.
In other words, we do not get what it says on the tin, or necessarily what we are told we are likely to get. I am very sceptical, not just Eurosceptic. I question not the honesty of individuals, but the accuracy of their predictions. I therefore believe that this set of measures, as has been amply described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and others in this debate, is hugely important, although not more important than any of the other provisions that are part of a continual stream of acquiescence in European integration.
Where the provisions speak of not allowing measures to go through by way of opt-in, by imposing the requirement for some kind of parliamentary approval, I am well aware that we table amendments, we argue the case, we have a European scrutiny process, we go through it in detail, it has been universally applauded by Ministers and people throughout the land—
Except the BBC, as my hon. Friend says, because it has not given any attention to the legislation.
The process has received a great deal of enthusiastic support, except when it comes to the votes. For all the flattering remarks made periodically about the members of the Committee and dedication and determination that they have applied, nothing happens. We do not get any of our amendments through and the Chamber is virtually empty. There is one assiduous Member on the Opposition Back Benches. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She has the seat which, I think, used to be Birmingham, Central in the 1880s. She was not around at the time, but she is carrying forward a fine tradition of ensuring proper scrutiny. Her predecessors in that seat were assiduous in ensuring that the interests of the people of Birmingham were well looked after. I pay tribute to her not only for the fact that she is here today on her own on the Opposition Back Benches, but that she is taking an active part.
That is an interesting insight. However, I shall not follow the hon. Lady down that route as it would take me into area in which I have a great deal of interest. The hon. Lady tempts me, but she will not succeed on this occasion.
I return to my concerns. I do not mean this as personal criticism of the Whips. They have a job to do. They are told what to do. It is part of a policy, and the question is whether we want this set of provisions on family law, criminal procedure, serious crime with cross-border dimensions and so on to be implemented at all. The problem we have relates to a decision whether to opt in. We should not be contemplating it. That is the problem. With great respect to my hon. Friends, I am not criticising; I am simply making a point.
I am concerned that we might congratulate the Government a little too much on their restraint in giving approval by way of Act of Parliament or some motion, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, really amounts to no more than a resolution. After getting past what I call the pas de deux of the opt-in, we then move downstream into the question of whether the Whips would allow the vote to go the wrong way. We have already had the example of the opt-in for the investigative order. We know from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that there are 40 such opt-ins on the way. This is the Europeanisation of our criminal system—
Yes, and civil. Let us not get carried away by a few bits of paper and a few words in a Bill. They say that there will be restraint by way of approvals given by the House, but we know the realities. In relation to the opt-in on the investigative order—I think it was on 15 June, shortly after the general election—it can fairly be said that the Minister believed that she had to make that decision because, I think I am right in saying, there was a three-month period within which the decision had to be made. Perhaps there was some justification for the fact that she had to make the decision, but why did she make the decision to opt in? Why did she not make the decision not to opt in? That is my concern.
I plead with hon. Members not to be taken in by the effusions of reservation that emerge in letters, statements and the Bill. Right at the heart of this is the real question of whether we will end up with more Europeanisation of these matters, and the answer, emphatically, is yes.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the findings of the German federal constitutional court, which protects these matters for that country. In one judgment it said:
“Securing legal peace by the administration of criminal law has always been a central duty of state authority…To what extent and in what areas a polity uses exactly the means of criminal law as an instrument of social control is a fundamental decision. By criminal law, a legal community gives itself a code of conduct that is anchored in its values, whose violation is, according to the shared convictions on law, regarded as so grievous and unacceptable for social existence in the community that it requires punishment.”
It is desperately trying to protects its laws as well.
I am so glad to hear that. I was not precisely aware of that part of the judgment, but my hon. Friend has made an important and helpful comment. The argument is right, and it is by dint of the most awful experience in Germany that it has come to these conclusions over an extended period since 1945. It is vigilant about these matters because it does not want ever again to find itself in circumstances, by virtue of a lack of democracy, when Hitler ran Germany. I have an absolute belief in the democratic instincts and principles of the British people, which have been born out of fighting not only that very Germany, but previous wars, right the way back to at least the 17th century. We have built up a democratic system in which we decide what the legislation should be, and we give it careful consideration. We need some parliamentary reform. We are being given the impression that in relation to these matters we will be able to retain our criminal system, but unfortunately, because of the Whip system and the whole direction of Europeanisation, that will be removed by what will happen in practice. As helpful as all these procedures are in indicating the direction in which they might like to go in certain circumstances, I fear that we will have many opt-ins and that, in practice, the proposed procedures will be applied and the Whips will ensure that the measures go through.
I will give the European investigation order as an example. It is still subject to European scrutiny and there will be a debate on it—I cannot remember when—despite the fact that it was decided on 15 June last year. That is because the European Scrutiny Committee had not been set up by that time, but the rules still applied to that order. There will be a debate on that matter, but when it is debated, which in effect is the same kind of thing that the Minister refers to about parliamentary approval, up to a point, there will no doubt be a take-note motion—I cannot remember the precise motion— before the European Committee. The reality is that not once in the 26 years I have watched these matters has a decision of a European Committee not to take note, following a vote that went against a Minister, not been reversed on the Floor of the House by the use of the Whips. Why should I be confident that—
My hon. Friend has made some powerful points that are entirely borne out by my much lesser experience of the European scrutiny system. In the case of the European right to information order, which is another opt-in, the most we can do is vote against it in the relevant European Committee so that it comes back for a vote on the Floor of the House, but that is merely a deferred Division on whether to take note of the document. We do not have the opportunity to say no to the opt-in. Is that his experience? We must have that option in the future if the Minister is to make good the promise, made in the statement of 20 January, that we will have the opportunity in a vote on the Floor of the House to say no to an opt-in.
That is such a good example. In fact, I was in that debate with my hon. Friend—I was unable to vote in the Committee but took part in the proceedings. The reality is that that is how the system works in practice. This debate is about criminal law, but it is the same for everything else in the Bill. All the treaties, including all the laws, the entire encyclopaedia, all the work that is done in all the Departments and cross-departmental work—the whole country—are being run by a process of continuous European integration. The question is whether it is good for us or not. It is as simple as that, and that is a matter for us to judge.
However, because of the way policy is made, and with the help of the coalition, we are told that the Government think it is good for us. I do not agree, and I think that there are many other Members, and certainly many more people outside, who agree with what I have just said. Although the debates have been conducted with great courtesy and a great deal of substance on both sides of the argument, the real question is about what has happened. The short answer is that the Bill will go through and that we will put up a fight again in another motion under the arrangements proposed in clause 9, but in practice the process I have described will continue to happen.
At the risk of being accused of encouraging the hon. Gentleman, I must say that when Ministers are terribly courteous it is usually an indication that we are not getting anywhere. The first rule of politics is that until they are rude, we are not getting anywhere. The real problem is that the UK Permanent Representative to the EU is politically unaccountable. My ultimate plea is to have the UKRep stand here once a week, as the Deputy Prime Minister does, and be politically accountable for the negotiations and deals that are done at Brussels. Until we have that, all this is—
I am grateful for that, Mr Evans, because otherwise the hon. Lady might have tempted me yet again. She knows my soft point, and she knows very well that it would not take me long to get going on that issue, either. But, she is right.
I have tabled a number of amendments, but I do not intend to press them to a vote, because we have had a thoroughly good debate, and I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, think that further consultation between the Minister, his officials, the European Scrutiny Committee and our Clerks might help to ensure that we get the maximum out of the provisions, even if they do not really measure up.
In any case, we know what happens in our votes; we have watched them now for about a week. On one occasion, we reached 45 genuine—as I call them— abstentions. By the way, Mr Evans, your name appeared on one list, but I said, “No, he’s Chairman of Ways and Means; this is not somebody you can count in.” Anyway, on parliamentary sovereignty we had between 45 and 50 such abstentions, which is quite a lot, but it is not anything like as many as the number of Members who rather agree with us in the broadest sense. I shall not go down that route, but what happens in votes is not very edifying. We do not win votes, because people are being told to vote in a way that is inconsistent with what they think, and that is another democratic problem.
Amendments 99 and 98 are mischievous, simply because they were tabled only to demonstrate my concern, which I have just raised, that opt-ins should not be allowed under any circumstances. On amendment 47, however, regarding the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions, my hon. Friends the Members for Esher and Walton, for Hertsmere and for Daventry are right. I am reluctant to adopt a default position, but for the purposes of debate I want to get out into the open something that concerns me, because the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions, on which I dare say books could be written, ought to be as restricted as possible.
Article 83(2) of TFEU, as I state in amendment 47,
“permits the establishment by directive of minimum rules with regard to the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in an area subject to harmonisation measures by the same ordinary or special legislative procedure as was followed for the adoption of the harmonisation measures in question.”
In a nutshell, I should like that to be one of those measures—from the written statement to which the Minister has referred—that ought to be discussed properly.
Let us think about what the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions affects and what its consequences are for the people whom we are elected to represent. If I cannot win the vote on my desire to throw out the whole measure, my minimum default position, however cynical and unhappy I am about opt-ins anyway, is to attempt to include it in the arrangements that the Government have provided.
Those are my thoughts on this group of amendments and on my amendments. If I sound a little concerned about them, I hope that Members will understand. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, I see the provision under discussion as an enormous step. I am not sure that it is beneficial, because it assumes that there will be opt-ins. There are 30 or 40 of them, and there have already been eight in the past few months. The trend exists, and I do not see anything holding back the tsunami. Indeed, I see the tsunami being built up, and that is not in the interests of the democratic principles by which this House is elected.
With the Prime Minister. In particular, I agree with his speech on 4 November 2009, in which he said:
“We must be sure that the measures included in the Lisbon Treaty will not bring creeping control over our criminal justice system by EU judges. We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and ensuring that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.”
I would like to put on the record how much I agree with that position, and how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). Why are we discussing further opt-ins in this Committee, when we should be considering how to recapture a sense of control and our national way of life in relation to the criminal justice system?
I am particularly concerned that in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister said that there is a strict time limit of three months for our opt-in, and that that is what the protocol states. The written statement says:
“As currently, the Government will not override the scrutiny process unless an earlier opt-in decision is essential.”
Presumably that relates to the three months. The statement goes on:
“Where the Government consider an early opt-in to be necessary, it will explain its reasons to Parliament through the statement set out above. In these circumstances, it would usually be appropriate for the statement to be made orally.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 52WS.]
That suggests that the statement could be a written statement. I am concerned, as are my constituents, about further Europeanisation of border control under things like the Schengen agreement. Yes, that is subject to a referendum, but my constituents specifically do not want to see further integration through Schengen and in the criminal justice system. I feel passionate about this matter.
I press the Minister to say in his response whether the three-month position is correct. I have taken the time to read the protocol. It is true that article 3 of the protocol states:
“The United Kingdom or Ireland may notify the President of the Council in writing, within three months after a proposal or initiative has been presented to the Council pursuant to Title V of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application”.
However, I am troubled by one thing, which I hope the Minister will clarify. Article 4 states:
“The United Kingdom or Ireland may at any time after the adoption of a measure by the Council pursuant to Title V of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union notify its intention to the Council and to the Commission that it wishes to accept that measure.”
I would like the Minister to clarify why there is such a crashing hurry on this matter, and whether there really has to be a crashing hurry. Is it because there has to be negotiation in Europe, or for some other reason?
I hope that the Government will give further consideration to tightening up the statement and to introducing measures on Report that would give further confidence that the House will have a say on these most sensitive of issues—the criminal justice system and the control of our borders. This is one of the most central concerns of my constituents. I hope that Ministers will ensure that we will have proper scrutiny of any such measures.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and in particular to my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) for their explanations of the contents of and the motives behind the amendments, and for their offer not to press them to the vote.
I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) that I will hold back my innate wish to be aggressive to the point of rudeness towards her, and that I am happy to find an occasion to discuss with her and interested Opposition Members the content of last Thursday’s written ministerial statement and how we can take matters forward. It will be better for the reputation of the House, of governance in this country and of how we as a Government and a Parliament handle justice and home affairs coming from the EU if there is the maximum possible agreement across the political parties on a structure that we hope will then endure.
Before I move on to the amendments, I should like to respond briefly to some of the points that have been made that are more appropriate to a stand part debate. I turn first to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David). I will not go on at him incessantly about this, but I found it strange that in a debate on so many amendments, covering such a wide range of justice and home affairs issues, he focused almost entirely on the contents of the next group of amendments that we are due to debate and on the parliamentary lock that would be imposed on the number of advocates-general. I shall try to satisfy him on that point.
We have included in schedule 1 any move to change the basis of decision making under article 19(2) of the treaty on European union from unanimity to qualified majority voting, so that it would be caught by the referendum lock. That article guarantees that there will be one judge from each member state in both the general court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is important that we ensure that we continue to have a veto, so that we can insist that there is a UK judge there.
That is important not just for the national interest but for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and others this evening. Four EU member states have common-law jurisdictions, although our Scottish colleagues in the House might argue that the UK is by no means entirely a common-law jurisdiction. Those states are ourselves, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta. For that reason, it is important to have a suitable arrangement for taking decisions about the number of judges, and a requirement for each member state to nominate a judge, so that we can effectively protect the representation of those four jurisdictions in the highest judicial councils of the EU.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly will also find in article 19(2) a requirement for both judges and advocates-general to be
“persons whose independence is beyond doubt”.
Again, that requirement deserves to be protected. I have no reason to believe that the other member states would vote to dilute it, but the importance of the article justifies the referendum lock.
In contrast, article 252 of the TFEU requires there to be eight advocates-general to advise the court. There is not the same idea that there should be one from each member state. The article states that unanimity is needed in order to increase the number of advocates-general beyond eight, and a change to that article would be required for a switch to qualified majority voting. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe the people whom we represent would find it slightly odd if we invited them to participate in a national referendum on whether to raise the number of advocates-general or on whether to change the method by which that decision is taken. That is the reason for the distinction that we draw in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry asked about moves towards a common EU asylum system. The British Government strongly believe in the importance of practical co-operation on asylum policy within the EU. Equally, we do not judge that a common EU asylum policy is right for Britain. We believe that on many issues, EU member states have much to gain by working together, but we have made it clear that the emphasis of the EU’s agenda on asylum should not always be on legislation, but on helping member states to improve the quality of their individual asylum systems. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the UK has not opted into the reception conditions directive, the qualifications directive or the asylum procedures directive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) asked about the European investigation order. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out very plainly on more than one occasion her reasons for recommending that the Government opt in to that measure.
May I just say how much I welcome the strong policy on asylum? Asylum has been a substantial problem in my constituency of Dover, with masses of would-be asylum seekers and economic migrants at Calais wanting to break into the country. Will the Minister tell the Committee more about how we will ensure our strength and independence on border security?
I do not want to be distracted from the subject matter of the debate—clause 9 and the amendments—so the best thing is for me to tell my hon. Friend that I will either write to him or ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to do so in response to the point that he raises.
May I summarise the Government’s case in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone? There have been many criticisms of the current criminal mutual legal assistance system; it is said that it is fragmented, confusing and subject to delays. In some cases, it takes many months to obtain vital evidence, and when the UK has been the requesting state, that has had a detrimental effect on UK investigations and trials. The EIO seeks to address those problems by simplifying the MLA system among EU member states and introducing strict deadlines for the execution of requests.
It is true that had we not opted into the EIO, we would still have been able to operate MLA with other EU countries, but we would have been in a tiny minority of EU countries not using the EIO. Owing to that, and because deadlines would not apply to UK MLA requests, it is likely that those requests would be given a lower priority than those of other states, and that our prosecutors would have experienced longer delays. Given that 75% of the UK’s MLA traffic is with other EU countries, the practical impact on UK cases would have been significant.
If my hon. Friend wishes to pursue the matter further, I suggest that he first looks at the letter which the Home Secretary wrote to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on 3 August 2010, and which she has deposited in the Library. The letter details a number of specific cases in which the current arrangements were proven to be inadequate. In one case, evidence that was not returned prior to the conclusion of the trial may have led to the suspect being exonerated. Her judgment and the Government’s judgment is that had we not opted in, it is likely that there would be more such cases.
My right hon. Friend is well aware of my long-term interest in matters pertaining to the European arrest warrant and the EIO. By that explanation, he has demonstrated the importance of, and the need for, the EAW and the EIO. I hope he will reassure us that the Bill gives the House the chance to debate and pass judgment such things, and to facilitate decisions on opting in or out.
My answer to that is on two fronts. The EAW is, of course, a pre-Lisbon, pillar three arrangement. It was not subject to post-Lisbon scrutiny, let alone to the detailed scrutiny and discussions with Committees and other representatives of Parliament that the Government are proposing. On the European investigation order, I can give comfort to my hon. Friend. It is the Government’s view that the decision to opt in to the order is one of the matters that would not only have attracted significant parliamentary interest, but which would also have raised questions of political and legal importance that would fully justify a full debate in Government time. With that debate would obviously come the opportunity of a parliamentary vote.
I have some sympathy in policy terms with the Government on the issue of the European investigation order, but would it not have been possible to have had informal consultation with, let us say, the outgoing Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, rather than having no consultation with Parliament at all?
I cannot recall without advice whether the Committee had just been appointed but had not met, or whether it had not yet been constituted, but the lesson that I draw from that episode—and the Government were far from happy with the fact that we had to take a decision at the end of the three-month period without a formal scrutiny process—is that we have, in the forthcoming discussions, to find a way to address the real difficulty that arises during a Dissolution of Parliament and the period after that before the scrutiny Committees are fully reconstituted. What the new Government found on coming into office was that the EU’s legislative timetable on justice and home affairs had not stopped and there was an accumulation of measures, each with a non-extendable three-month timetable, at the end of which we had to decide whether to make the initial opt-in. A large chunk of that time had already been devoured by the period of Dissolution, and there were no scrutiny Committees in place to do the job that we would want and expect Parliament to do.
Can I take it from what my right hon. Friend has just said about the European investigation order that although it may be an issue that he would consider as of particular interest and therefore deserving a debate under the scrutiny process, it would not have been caught by clause 9 as it stands? He is therefore conceding that this is an extra stage of scrutiny that has been brought about by the diligent and commendable efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who has done a service to the House in ensuring additional scrutiny.
My hon. Friend is right. I signed off a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) earlier today responding to these points, which he put to me in writing, although I expect that he has not yet received it. We draw a distinction between the justice and home affairs matters on which it is already within the competence of the EU to act, but where the UK has an opt-in, and matters that are without the existing competence of the European Union. We have tried to maintain that distinction in each aspect of the Bill, and that is a point that has informed the Government’s collective view on this legislation.
My right hon. Friend said “where the UK has an opt-in,” but if I may correct him, I think that he meant where we have the right to opt in. There is a substantial body of such matters and, of course, in each case they would be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, should we decide to opt in.
My hon. Friend is right to make that correction. He is also right when he refers to the importance of the jurisdiction of the ECJ as a relevant new feature of any justice and home affairs measure that is brought forward subsequent to the Lisbon treaty. That is the thing that makes such a profound difference between third-pillar arrangements and the current treaty arrangements. That is why when Ministers—usually the Justice Secretary or Home Secretary—come to the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet with a proposed decision on a justice and home affairs measure, they are required, as a standard part of Government policy, to produce an analysis of the likely impact of ECJ jurisdiction on our law if the United Kingdom participated in the measure, and also to assess the risks that this would lead to competence creep. My hon. Friend is right that that is an important consideration that we need to take into account when judging the balance of national interests that determines whether we choose to opt in to, or stay out of, a particular decision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), along with a number of other hon. Members, asked why we needed to opt in at all, because if we have not gone through the whole scrutiny process, we should just leave it and opt out. The treaty gives us a three-month period within which we have to decide whether we want to make an initial opt-in. We can, if we choose, opt out at that stage, let the negotiations take place on the final version of the measure, and then opt in to the final text, as agreed by the others taking part. The problem with what he suggested is that it is not a reliable method of ensuring that our national interests are properly represented, for a number of reasons.
First, if we wait until the final stage, we have to ask the Commission if we may participate. The Council is then able to specify conditions under which United Kingdom can do so. If we judge that the balance of advantage points towards our opting in, there is a further advantage in getting in first. Secondly, if we participate on the first occasion on which we can opt in, we will then be at the table with a vote, helping to shape the final status of the text. We will not be in anything like as influential a position if we make a decision first to stay out. Thirdly, if we are not taking part, we have no vote on the final text. There are sometimes occasions—perhaps on a counter-terrorism measure—where we might decide that, on balance, it will be in our national interest to opt in, but where we dislike one particular element of the draft text. Perhaps we also know that two or three other key member states have similar reservations. In those circumstances, it is possible that the Government’s decision would be to opt in by the end of the three-month period, with the aim of putting together an alliance with those other member states so as to secure through negotiation a final text that meets our interests and means that we are completely content with the outcome.
My right hon. Friend is being most courteous in giving way. On the question of where the national interest lies, I understand and accept the reasons why the Government, as a coalition, are having to go through the complicated process that he has described. However, in the Conservative manifesto it was conceived as being in the national interest that we should not opt in to any such matters, because we were clear that there should be no further extension of the EU’s power over the UK and we promised to work to return key powers over legal rights, criminal justice, and social and employment legislation to the UK. However, we cannot have envisaged seeking to return those powers while at the same time handing over completely new powers to the European Union, by choosing to opt in. That was the national interest as we saw it, and it remains the national interest.
My hon. Friend puts his point trenchantly. I am not going to make any secret of the fact that the handling of European policy, and in particular on justice and home affairs, has been one of the most delicate issues for the coalition. There have had to be compromises on both sides to get the package of measures that we are including in the Bill and to shape the general policy that we are pursuing in respect of the European Union.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I would like to answer one hon. Friend before I give way to another one.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere looks back to the debates on the Lisbon treaty, he will remember that he and I walked through the same Lobby, day after day, in opposition to that treaty. My recollection is that we had at least one day when we talked entirely about justice and home affairs matters. He knows the view that I took as a Front Bencher in a Conservative Opposition. I would much rather be either a member of or supporting a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition than spend another Parliament sitting fruitlessly in opposition, seeing measures being taken through the House to which I was vehemently opposed but which I was powerless to stop.
My right hon. Friend is getting on to a very sensitive point, and I quite understand the sensitivities involved. When I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 10 May last year about the coalition agreement, I specifically stated that, if there were to be a coalition—I had made it clear that I would have preferred a minority Government—it was essential that the Liberal Democrats should at least be required to abstain on matters relating to the European Union, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) has just given. That is the problem, and we are now finding ourselves in an impossible dilemma. In fact, I would say that the situation is untenable.
I disagree with my hon. Friend’s statement either that we face an impossible dilemma or that the situation is untenable. We have a situation in which two political parties with differences of perspective and tradition on a number of issues are finding a way in which to work together in the interests of the nation as a whole. I think that the coalition is providing stable government. It is new in recent British political experience, but I find that it is hugely welcomed by many people of all political persuasions and no strong political persuasion.
When the Minister says “people of all political persuasions”, he certainly should not include those on the Opposition Benches. I found his recent comment very interesting indeed. We understand how keen and enthusiastic he was to become a Minister, and this is the first time that he has revealed why he really, really wanted to be one. Also, this is the first time that he—or any other Minister—has acknowledged that the Bill is basically a compromise. It is the result of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. It is important that that point is now firmly on record. This is the first time in this whole debate that it has been said. In the interests of transparency and openness, will he elaborate, so that we can find out the exact nature of the negotiating process that led to this rag-bag of a Bill?
It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to intervene in that fashion. He and I know that, in regard to policy on Europe or on any other matter, Governments of a single party in recent history—Conservative and Labour—have had to compromise a great deal, given the different points of view in the broad churches that those parties represent.
The hon. Lady says that the Labour Government never sought to compromise. That might explain their result at the last general election.
The answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly is that there is a collective discussion, and it is a matter of public record that every decision about European policy is routed through the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. The membership of that Cabinet Committee is published: it comprises two thirds Conservative Ministers and one third Liberal Democrat Ministers. That is the balance of all the Cabinet Committees. There are discussions and exchanges of points of view, and there is an outcome to which everyone collectively is willing to sign up and support. That seems to be a sensible, constructive way in which to do the business of government.
I thank the Minister for giving way once more. Would he be kind enough to clarify this point about the coalition? Can we take it that the Conservatives do not wish to opt in wherever an opt-in is available, so that whenever we do so, it is because we have been bullied into it by the Lib Dems?
No, I do not think that my hon. Friend should jump to that conclusion. In yesterday’s debate, I cited some counter-terrorist measures such as the European initiatives on passenger name records or on the tracking of terrorist finance, and it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom for us to take part in them. The US Government, who have a strong interest in these areas of policy, very much want a transatlantic agreement on such counter-measures and look to us to try to persuade other European Union member states to support a vigorous counter-terrorist policy and effective measures that will satisfy Washington as well as London.
Let me move on to deal with the amendments, as I have been speaking for nearly half an hour and have not yet been able to get on to that territory. My hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere and for Daventry tabled many of the amendments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone was responsible for much of the remainder. Let me respond to the different amendments briefly, which I hope will allow us to move on to the next group as well.
As we consider any potential future use of the JHA ratchet clauses, which in the context of clause 9 we have identified as articles 81(3), 82(2)(d) and 83(1) of TFEU, we are also clear that this legislation should ensure that any UK participation in such measures by virtue of our opt-in should be preceded by the approval of both Houses of Parliament, and that our agreement to the final measures proposed should be preceded by parliamentary approval through Act of Parliament. We think that this represents a significant step forward in enhancing the House’s controls on those JHA ratchet clauses, while maintaining the same proportionate and sustainable approach that we have tried to adopt in all other parts of the Bill.
A number of amendments to this clause have been tabled, which are mainly designed to increase the level of parliamentary and, in some cases, public control. Amendments 14 and 27 would require the Government to secure the approval of each House before the UK could participate in any measure pursuant to the UK’s opt-in under protocol 21 to title V of part 3 of TFEU. The two amendments have broadly the same scope, although I note that amendment 27, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, would not cover an opt-out decision relating to an extension of the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations, which he has addressed in a separate amendment that I shall deal with later.
One of the Bill’s key aims is to provide greater scrutiny and accountability over proposals to extend the competences of the EU or to broaden out the scope for EU action in accordance with existing EU competence, whether by future treaties or the use of ratchet clauses without the need for formal treaty change. However, measures proposed by the EU pursuant to its existing competences under title V, which do not relate to any proposed use of a ratchet clause, are not within the scope of the Bill’s enhanced parliamentary controls. As set out on Second Reading, measures pursued by the EU pursuant to title V concern the exercise of competences already conferred on the EU by the member states under the current treaties, although in the case of the UK, we retain the freedom to decide, measure by measure, whether or not we participate.
The Government believe that European co-operation in justice and home affairs can deliver key benefits, helping us to tackle more effectively issues of cross-border crime and making it easier for British citizens to do business across borders. As I have said on other occasions, however, the coalition Government committed themselves in the coalition agreement to considering opt-in decisions on a case-by-case basis. We have put the United Kingdom’s national interest at the heart of our decision-making and continue to do so, with a view to maximising United Kingdom security, protecting our civil liberties, preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system, and maintaining our ability to control immigration. Ministers take all those criteria into account when reaching a collective decision about a particular opt-in.
One way in which the Bill will increase public accountability is by providing that any proposed treaty change involving an end to the United Kingdom’s freedom not to participate in justice and home affairs by removing the country’s opt-in protocol would be subject to a referendum. All decisions under title V, the chapter in TFEU on justice and home affairs, are already subject to an enhanced level of parliamentary scrutiny.
Following reflections on the annual report to Parliament on the use of the justice and home affairs title V opt-in and Schengen opt-out decisions, I outlined in my written ministerial statement last Thursday the Government’s proposals for further enhancements of such scrutiny arrangements. In view of the time, and because I set out the proposals in detail both in the written statement and in yesterday’s debate—they can be found in columns 238 to 239 of Hansard—I do not propose to go into further detail today, although I repeat that I am more than willing to discuss the best way of proceeding with any Member on either side of the House. I do, however, wish to make a couple of points as a gloss on the policy that I announced in the statement.
First, let me repeat that the Government believe that, in future, measures such as the European investigation order should be dealt with by way of a parliamentary debate with the opportunity for a vote. Indeed, they would have been dealt with in that way had these arrangements applied earlier. We have made an explicit commitment to a parliamentary debate and vote on the decision on the mass opt-in or opt-out which must be determined by 2014, as set out in my written statement.
We are due to debate the measures later.
The Government will have three options. They can decide to opt in to all the measures en bloc, or they can decide to opt out of them en bloc. The judgment that Ministers will have to make—I emphasise that no decision has yet been made, and that we are nowhere near making one or making a recommendation—is that these are measures in which the United Kingdom freely decided that it wanted to participate, because it served our national interest to do so, during the “third pillar” process that existed before the Lisbon treaty.
The Government of the time—Labour or Conservative—decided that each measure was right and that it was in the British national interest to participate; but, of course, that decision was made on the basis that those were intergovernmental matters which did not fall within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is a material difference. If we opt in to all these measures in 2014, we must accept that we are opting in to matters all of which will, from that point, be subject to ECJ jurisdiction.
Yes, the default position is that we stay opted in. We have to take a decision one way or the other, and the Government are not going to hide in the corner and hope that nobody notices a decision to opt in. We are going to make a public announcement at the due time and have the debate in Parliament.
The third option for the Government would be to opt out of the measures en bloc and then seek to opt back in where we continue to believe that the balance of advantage to our national interest lies in participation. A complicated analysis is involved and we are talking about 90 such measures coming up for determination in or before 2014. As this is, again, a matter within existing competence, it is best dealt with through the enhanced scrutiny arrangements that I am proposing and it should certainly require a vote in the House. The Government have explicitly committed themselves to that and it will, of course, happen before the end of this Parliament in 2015.
The two amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and others tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry propose to subject all opt-in decisions to a requirement for an approval motion in both Houses, not simply those on which there is a significant level of parliamentary interest. Because of the practicalities of such a move on all opt-in decisions, that requirement would risk preventing the Government from being able to secure Parliament’s approval in time to opt in to any new JHA proposal within the three-month time limit set down in article 3 of protocol 21 in order to enable us to participate in negotiations at EU level. That would have a knock-on effect on our ability to help shape the proposal effectively in negotiation, and sometimes that is of great importance. Our votes made it possible to clinch an agreement on the EU-US terrorist finance tracking measure that suited our national interest and ensured that the Americans were content too. That deal became available during a parliamentary recess, when it would not have been possible to go through the formal procedures that the amendments seek to apply to each and every opt-in. That is one reason why in the discussions about enhancing scrutiny we have to find a way to handle the real difficulties that can sometimes arise, both during recesses and in periods of and following parliamentary Dissolution.
May I say in passing to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry that, although the detail will be the subject of discussions with the relevant Committees and business managers, the possibility of a parliamentary vote would apply to any opt-in decision under the proposals that I made in my written statement. Included in that would be measures following the adoption of a measure by other member states and decisions not to opt out of Schengen measures where there is strong parliamentary interest in the measure or where the measure is of the importance that I have indicated in my written statement. The process proposed in the amendments does not lend itself to timely decision making when a rapid decision needs to be taken. I have outlined the practical reasons why this approach would not be proportionate and I hope that my hon. Friends will therefore be prepared not to press their amendments to a Division.
Amendment 47 would require parliamentary approval before we could opt in to a measure brought forward under article 83(2) of TFEU, which allows for the establishment of minimum rules regarding the definition of criminal offences and sanctions if such approximation of member state criminal laws and regulations is judged to be essential to ensure effective implementation of policy areas in which the EU has already harmonised standards. For example, if the EU set rules about environmental protection and a criminal sanction proved essential to make those rules effective, the EU could consequently set a minimum standard for a criminal offence in that area.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said, but I do not believe that article 83(2) is a ratchet clause in the way that articles 81(3), 82(2)(d) or 81(1) are so considered. Article 83(2) makes provision for Europe to be able to act under its existing competence without the need to be able to expand EU action in the same way, for example, as article 83(1) provides for the ability to expand the list of areas of serious cross-border crime in which the EU can act. I do not therefore think that it should be subject to the enhanced level of parliamentary control set out in the Bill to which the ratchet clauses are to be subject, given the relative differences in effect.
Amendments 28 and 29 would require the relevant Minister to make an oral statement to the House if he or she were to seek to join new elements of the Schengen acquis or not to opt out of a measure building on Schengen. As my written ministerial statement made clear, we intend that Schengen decisions, like JHA title V decisions, should be covered fully by the proposed enhanced scrutiny arrangements.
I hope that I have been able to respond to the concerns raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the interests of moving on to the next group of amendments, I shall conclude my remarks.
As I said earlier, I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I want to make progress and for that reason, and the other reasons I have mentioned, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 33, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(7) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 10(5) of Protocol (No. 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU that the United Kingdom wishes to participate in an act that has ceased to apply to it pursuant to Article 10(4) of that Protocol, where the AFSJ Protocol would apply to the procedure for dealing with the notification, unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to give the notification.’.—(Chris Heaton-Harris.)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 82, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(6A) A Minister of the Crown may not make a formal decision as to whether to exercise the right of the United Kingdom to make a notification to the Council under the terms of article 10(4) of the Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU, unless—
(a) the decision is approved by Act of Parliament, and
(b) the referendum condition is met.
(6B) The referendum condition is that set out in section 3(2).’.
Amendment 83, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(6C) A Minister of the Crown may not make a formal decision as to whether to exercise the right of the United Kingdom to make a notification to the Council under the terms of article 10(4) of the Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU, unless the decision is approved by Act of Parliament.’.
Amendment 84, page 8, line 16, at end add—
‘(6D) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 10(5) of Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU that the United Kingdom wishes to participate in an Act that has ceased to apply to it pursuant to Article 10(4) of that Protocol, unless the notification in respect of the Act has been approved by Act of Parliament.’.
Amendments 82, 83 and 84 concern what the Minister set out in a statement last week, in which he described the arrangements for the Government to give formal notification of whether they wished the UK to opt out of certain justice and home affairs matters by 31 July 2014. He made it clear in the statement—I think this is welcome—that the Government intend to allow the House of Commons and the other place to table a formal resolution to approve or disapprove of the action the Government take in these matters.
While we are listening to this debate, it is worth reminding ourselves of the magnitude of what we are talking about: a complete rearrangement of the civil and criminal legal system of our country that will move the whole civil and criminal system on to an entirely new basis. I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says about the number of advocates-general and about maintaining four judges in the European Court of Justice who represent common law jurisdictions, but that is a completely meaningless reassurance in the face of all the other judges and the history of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, which simply is not interested in the common law basis of the jurisdictions of its member states.
Having fought against the Lisbon treaty in principle and most particularly on the basis of its potential to interfere in the criminal and civil law of this country, it is astonishing that the Government, since the election, have, for example, approved the directive establishing the European investigation order. Let us be clear: that allows another member state to oblige the United Kingdom to carry out almost any investigative action in the UK, including searching a house, intercepting telephone calls and obtaining DNA for the purpose of criminal proceedings in the requesting member state. The UK has supported the directive on the right to interpretation and translation of criminal proceedings, ceding jurisdiction in that area to the European Court of Justice. This all happened before the European Scrutiny Committee was sitting, so it was all unscrutinised by this House. Any weasel words from the Government about strengthening the scrutiny of the House of Commons should carry a health warning.
The Government have decided to opt in to the Council decision on the conclusion of an agreement between the European Union and Georgia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation, which makes binding on the UK as a matter of European Community law an international agreement between the EU and Georgia and means that the UK cannot conclude its own readmission agreement with Georgia, should it wish to do so. I just point out that had any of those decisions been in an international treaty outside the European Union’s jurisdiction, they would have required an Act of Parliament, but these things are done by the stroke of a Minister’s pen under the powers in the European Communities Act 1972.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall what the Minister said about the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet, and the fact that we have two thirds Conservatives and one third Liberal Democrats. For practical purposes, there cannot be a vote; otherwise, if we were to comply with our manifesto commitments, we would win the vote every time. It must be, therefore, that the Government are willing to agree with the Liberal Democrats’ proposals, which makes it even worse.
I thought the exchanges between the two Front Benchers about the real nature of the coalition agreement were very revealing. We have all known about this from the minute that the coalition agreement was first mooted. That is why I was one of the newly elected Members who went to see the then Leader of the Opposition, just after the election, and said, “Do not do this; let us have another election in short order so that we can deliver our mandate and our promises to the British people.” We knew that we were being bound into an arrangement that would mean having to swap our obligations to our electors—let us face it, handing criminal jurisdiction over to the European Union is not exactly a popular thing to do—for a mess of pottage: a compromise with the Liberal Democrats. The Deputy Prime Minister took great interest in these matters, particularly justice and home affairs, when he worked for the European Commission and I understand that he is personally extremely committed to the creation of a federalist criminal justice legal order as part of the state building of the European Union. We are now actively participating in that.
In the spirit of coalition, which the hon. Gentleman so obviously and positively espouses, does he accept that the Liberal Democrats have moved quite a long way in accepting this Bill at all and that many of the strictures it puts on the progress of proper government at European level are things that do not come particularly naturally to Liberal Democrat Members?
I am perfectly prepared to accept that some Liberal Democrats have compromised considerably on the Bill.
What does the Bill add up to? The problem is that it does not change anything. It does not change the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom one comma or dot. It is about the arrangements between the British Government and the British Parliament. We all know that it is designed to give the impression that this and future Governments will somehow be locked down by the referendum lock and will be obliged to have referendums as never before. It is certainly useful to create that expectation because the disappointment when no referendum occurs will then be much deeper, but what does the Bill actually mean?
Clauses 2 to 7 make a lot of legal arrangements to ensure that decisions taken by the Government are approved by referendum or Act of Parliament. There are certain exclusions that we have already argued about, such as whether the treaty on fiscal union will somehow be exempted from referendum even though it is probably one of the most significant European treaties we will see in our lifetimes. That is the state of the Bill, which has some remarkable tripwires—so many that the Opposition spokesman has been saying, “This is getting too particular and detailed; we will have to have Acts of Parliament and referendums on all kinds of things that are patently ridiculous.” That is why I think that future Governments will wriggle out of the obligations without much difficulty.
My amendments concern the opting-out proposals. In order to make the Lisbon treaty, which establishes the European Union’s authority over criminal and civil law, more palatable, there was an arrangement that the United Kingdom could opt out at a later date. One would have thought that a party and a Government who were elected on a platform to repatriate powers from the EU, and who fought against the Lisbon treaty on the principle that the European Union should not have jurisdiction over our criminal law, would be keen to ensure that any coalition agreement reflected that policy, particularly as they have talked about a sovereignty clause, a referendum lock and so on.
We know that there will probably never be a new treaty amendment that meets the test that triggers a referendum. Indeed, the Minister made it clear that he has no intention of letting a Bill through the House that would trigger such a referendum during the lifetime of this Parliament. The Lisbon treaty has made the EU self-amending. The Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, who is chair of the Federal Trust, said on the BBC World Service: “The treaty of Lisbon is in force and it won’t be unpicked by the British. It can’t be. It is the statute which will probably govern the Union for some time.” As I said in the debate on Monday,
“The problem is that this is not the ‘thus far and no further’ Bill; it is the ‘locking the stable door after the horse has bolted’ Bill.—[Official Report, 24 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 116.]
We do not know whether the next five years will see any changes to the EU treaties—I suspect they will—but there is one area in which the Government will have to make a very significant decision: whether to give more powers to Brussels or to bring them back to Britain. I remind the Committee that were the measure outside the jurisdiction of the European Communities Act, there would be no question but that there would be hundreds of pages of Acts of Parliament to implement this stuff, instead of its automatic inclusion in our law and implementation. It is fundamentally undemocratic to reorganise our constitution by the stroke of a Minister’s pen in this way.
In crime and policing, EU measures which were passed under the pre-Lisbon third pillar arrangements are in this transitional period. Under the Lisbon treaty, there is a period in which we can opt out en bloc, as the Minister said. These measures include the European arrest warrant and the recognition of the trial of UK citizens in EU countries held in absentia. I have in my passport something about the protection of UK citizens, and here we are, handing over the possibility that UK citizens can be tried in other European jurisdictions without even being there. That is something that we do not do in our own jurisdiction.
The creation of the European public prosecutor will happen under the arrangement. The Government will have a straight choice between expanding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the British justice system, or opting out of the measure. It is a rare opportunity that we have in the treaty to repatriate power. One would have thought that we would want to do it, but the Bill as it stands does not include any control whatever over that decision. All we have is a personal assurance from the Minister that he will bring it to the House for a decision. That is welcome, but it not the kind of democratic control that is needed.
The Government have just announced the revision of control orders, which will require legislation. That is subject to democratic control. Imagine if the control orders decision was announced by the Government and required no legislation. That is what we are being offered in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is making a logical, coherent argument. The Government’s position on the Bill, as I was led to believe, was that if there were a significant move towards powers being transferred from the UK to the European Union, there should be a referendum. We have referred to a number of cases when there would be small changes, on which there might be a referendum, but he is talking about a very significant change. Does he not think there should be a referendum on that?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Bill is completely inconsistent. Relatively tiny matters covered by the Bill and caught by its provisions will have to come to Parliament and may even have to be the subject of a referendum. But this incredibly significant change to our legal system that is taking place now is exempted from the Bill. It is totally illogical. If there is anything that makes a complete nonsense of the Bill, it is this total exclusion of the 2014 decision.